November marked the 100th anniversary of the issuance of the patent for the iconic Coca-Cola bottle design.
Oftentimes cited as one of the best examples of trade dress in the world, the Coke bottle design was originally envisioned as a way to mass produce a drink container while creating a consumer impression that Coke was a unique premium product, easily distinguishable from competing formulations.
As recounted in the book Design to Grow by David Butler, vice-president of innovation and entrepreneurship for Coca-Cola and co-author Linda Tishler, Georgia businessman Asa Griggs Candler acquired a majority interest in the Coca-Cola Company in 1888, just two years after the product hit the market, and he hoped to make the sugary soft drink one of the most successful in the U.S. However, by the early 20th century, Coca-Cola had become just another soft drink alongside tens of competing brands on merchants’ shelves.
Realizing that he needed to take a different approach to marketing Coke, Candler decided to design a standardized bottle with an unusual design that could serve as the basis for a more aggressive marketing campaign as well as establishing a nationwide network of bottling companies to manufacture and distribute the product. So, Candler held a design contest.
One of the contest entrants was the Root Glass Company of Terre Haute, Indiana. Root’s shop foreman, Alexander Samuelson, thought the bottle should incorporate its name and reflect one or more of the products ingredients so he sent a couple of members of his design team to the local library for ideas. Designer Earl Dean researched the word “coca” and came across an illustration for the cocoa plant that caught his eye. The illustration showed the cocoa pod, an unusual oblong shape with vertical ribbing, and even though the Coke recipe didn’t include cocoa, Dean worked up a design based on the plant and submitted a patent for the design on November 16, 1915.
Interestingly, Root first made a prototype was made, but the prototype never made it into production because its middle diameter was larger than its base, making it unstable on conveyor belts. The production design narrowed the mid-section and became an instant success. Now, Coca-Cola, including the drink, the ubiquitous logo, and the distinctive bottle design are known around the world.
Why It Matters. Whether you’re a fan of Coke or Pepsi and even if you’re a ‘Pepper’ (Dr Pepper fan), you have to admit that he Coca-Cola bottle design was a huge, unexpected success. And, the design history demonstrates the oft-times whimsical nature of brand success. Never underestimate the power of a brand.