The real thing: Coke's iconic bottle
(CBS News) As Mark Strassmann is about to tell us, for millions of thirsty Americans through the years, nothing hits the spot like The Real Thing:
Everyone talks about bottling success, but Coke actually did it.
The Coke bottle is an iconic design recognized around the world, with its ridged glass, bowed middle and unmistakable curve appeal
Coke calls it "the contour bottle." Andy Warhol called it art.
"Every consumer goods company wants to find a unique way to present itself to the public, and this, for us, has been the Holy Grail," said Phil Mooney, Coca-Cola's company historian.
Coke began in Atlanta in 1886 as a soda fountain drink selling for five cents. Bottling plants sprang up throughout the entire United States, and by about 1910, just about every part of the U.S. is covered.
But the bottles came in a variety of shapes and colors. By 1915, Coke's success had so many imitators, customers seldom knew whether they were buying the real thing.
"They come up with names that sound very much like Coca-Cola," said Mooney. "So you get Cheracola, Dixie Cola, Take a Cola, Cocanola - any combination of thing that could deceive the public into thinking that they were actually buying Coca-Cola."
Mooney said Coke executives had a company-defining marketing idea: "So they decide to initiate a contest - they want a bottle that is so unique that you will be able to identify it in the dark simply by its shape, a bottle that is so unique that even if you find it broken in pieces on the ground, you will be able to identify it as a bottle for Coca-Cola."
At the Root Glass company in Terre Haute, Ind., designers inspired by the gourd-shaped cocoa pod drew one of marketing's all time game-changers.
And in 1916, with a little slimming down, the 6.5-ounce contour bottle was born.
And it's always the same. "People recognize it," said Mooney. "They clearly understand what it is. It enabled us to create a system around that."
During World War II, Coke donated more than five BILLION bottles to GIs fighting overseas.
Today, Coke worldwide sells almost two billion drinks every 24 hours.
It only SEEMS as if Bill and Cathy Combs buy all of them. Coke collectibles of every description cover all twelve rooms of the Combs' home outside Baltimore.
"There's not an inch uncovered in this room," Bill Combs said. "If you look around the signs, the paperwork, everything shows the bottle. I mean you know the Coca-Cola bottle immediately."
"The bottle represents Coca-Cola in my mind," said Cathy Combs. "It's just one of those symbols you remember as a kid. It just means Coca-Cola. It represents the whole package. It's everything good."
But in the 1990s, Coke executives - among the world's master marketers - lost touch with the bottle's symbolic importance.
Katie Bayne, a Coke executive, said bubbles were added to the packaging, "to make people think of what they like about Coke."
The upshot of its promotions? "You basically are losing the most important iconography of the brand," she said.
In 2006 the company finally realized its mistake in its advertising. Now, Bayne says, in all their packaging and marketing you'll spot the contour bottle somewhere.
"And as crazy as it sounds, this stuff matters?" asked Strassmann.
"This stuff does matter," replied Bayne. "It's a two-second purchase decision. And people aren't standing in the aisle weighing . . . they're in the aisle. They want to find the brand they love."
So whatever you're drinking to cool off in this summer heat, remember the message in this bottle: Sometimes, what's on the outside counts as much as the inside.
And that's all by design.
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