The Power of the Coca Cola Bottle!

The Power of the Coca Cola Bottle!

James Martin-Harper |

Modern-day society is becoming tech-cultured. Our kids grow up learning how to get to the next level rather than climb to the next branch, tech natives. So in a world full of texts, tweets, bullet points, emails it’s easy to understand why the power of a visual hammer is always forgotten. Words are what business executives use the most, and therefore, the visuals are left behind, despite them playing an important role in marketing.

In 2014, Coca-Cola invested more than $200 Million in the U.S. advertising its Coca-Cola brand. What was Coke’s slogan again? Was it “Always?” Or “Enjoy?” Or perhaps “Coke is it?” Most people can’t remember. What do most people remember? What do 99% of the American public remember about the advertising of Coca-Cola? Not the words. Most people remember the “contour” bottle. The Coca-Cola bottle is not just a bottle. It’s a visual hammer that nails the idea that Coke is the original cola, the authentic cola, the real thing. In a Coca-Cola commercial, the visuals speak louder than words. That’s the work of a visual hammer.

If you’ve noticed Coca-Cola advertising in the past few years, you’ve probably seen much greater use of its iconic bottle. In print and television advertising, on the cans, on the packaging and on the billboards. Even on the leatherheads and calling cards. The company’s visual hammer is one of the reasons why Coca-Cola is the world’s third most-valuable brand, worth $79 billion, according to Interbrand, a global branding consultancy. In today's global economy, a strong hammer is a particularly valuable asset.

Unlike a verbal concept, a visual hammer can cross global borders with no translations necessary. What is surprising about Coca-Cola’s 6.5oz “contour” glass bottles is how few of them are actually bought. No matter. The coke contour bottle is a powerful visual hammer. A coke can, on the other hand, is just another can of cola. That’s why it was a smart idea to print the contour bottle on the cans and even on the plastic cups. One place where the contour bottle is used quite extensively is in high-end restaurants, a fact that speaks to the visual impact the contour bottle has on Coca-Cola customers. While Coca-Cola has consistently used the same visual hammer, its verbal nails have been repeatedly changed. In the last 110 years, coke has used 57 different advertising slogans. Most of these are totally forgettable like the 1941 slogan “Coca-Cola is coke!”.

But four of these advertising slogans could have become long-lasting verbal nails if they had been used continuously. “The real thing”, in particular, is a strong verbal nail because it ties in well with the visual hammer. The bottle symbolizes the authenticity of the brand and “the real thing” verbalises the authenticity. None of the other three slogans, as good as they are, are strongly connected to the brand’s visual hammer.

Today, “The real thing” lives on in newspapers, magazines, books and television shows in spite of the fact that the Coca-Cola company has used the slogan just once, for just two years, more than 40 years ago. That demonstrates the verbal potency of the idea. It also proves that verbal ideas can get stronger as the years roll by, a reason for keeping a slogan alive for decades. Yet, changing slogans is the unintended consequence of the annual slew of “creativity” awards. You can’t be a successful advertising company agency today unless you can win your share of awards. And you can’t win an advertising award if you used last year’s slogan. It's not “creative”. That is, it's not new and different. So, advertising agencies face a difficult choice. Win awards or perish. You can’t blame them for choosing the former.

Visual Hammer / Laura Ries