Coca-Cola’s Iconic Bottle – A Masterclass in Distinctive Assets

By Zachary Carpenter
Group Strategy Director

The Problem

In the early 1900s, Coca-Cola faced a daunting problem: Copycats. Competitors were riding on the company’s coattails, copying the brand’s straight-sided bottle – which was easily imitated – eroding market share and confusing consumers.

Something had to be done.

In this sea of sameness, Coca-Cola needed a way to stand out, to be unmistakably, undeniably, uniquely Coca-Cola.


The Brief

Coca-Cola realized that to combat imitation, it needed more than just a logo. It needed a tangible, ownable brand asset, something so distinctive that it could be recognized by touch alone. So in 1915, Coca-Cola issued a challenge to glass companies. The brief was simple yet audacious:

“We need a bottle which a person will recognize as a Coca-Cola bottle even when he feels it in the dark. The bottle should be so shaped that, even if broken, a person could tell at a glance what it was.”


 The Outcome

The Root Glass Company in Indiana rose to that challenge. Inspired by the cocoa pod, the company created a curved, ribbed bottle design. The contour bottle was born.

By 1920, the contour bottle had become the standard for Coca-Cola. It was a masterstroke in Coke’s iconic branding as the distinctive shape became instantly recognizable, setting Coca-Cola apart from the crowd.

Over the following decades, the contour bottle became a global icon. It transcended its function as a mere container and became a brand symbol. And one of the most iconic designs in history. In 1950, the Coke bottle became the first commercial product to grace the cover of Time magazine. And in 1961, it was granted trademark status, an unparalleled achievement in packaging.


The Strategy

The contour bottle is the cornerstone of Coca-Cola’s “contourization” strategy.

Coca-Cola created a cohesive, instantly recognizable brand identity by integrating the contour shape across all brand touchpoints, from packaging to advertising to merchandise. This consistent use of a distinctive asset amplifies the impact of all brand communications.

A century after its creation, the contour bottle remains a powerful brand asset. It has enabled Coca-Cola to build unrivaled brand recognition, command premium prices, and maintain market leadership in the face of intense competition.

The contour bottle is more than just packaging. It’s a tangible embodiment of the Coca-Cola brand.


The Science

The contour bottle’s success isn’t just a matter of design. It’s a smart use of psychology.

Distinctive assets, like the contour bottle, are powerful drivers of brand recognition and recall. They enable consumers to identify a brand quickly and easily, even in cluttered environments. This ease of recognition builds mental availability, making the brand more likely to be chosen in a purchase situation. There’s a great deal of evidence that distinctive assets work:

  • A study of over 2,000 ads by Ipsos found that strong, distinctive assets were more effective than even the brand name and logo at driving attention. High-performing ads used distinctive assets 34% more often than low-performing ads.
  • According to Kantar, brands with the strongest distinctive assets are, on average, 52% more salient than competitors, meaning they spring to mind more readily when consumers shop.
  • A System1 analysis of 400 campaigns revealed that ads with recurring brand characters or mascots boosted market share and reduced price sensitivity more than campaigns without distinctive assets.

Simply put, distinctive assets work to strengthen your brand.


Lessons Learned

  1. Distinctive assets are powerful drivers of brand recognition and recall. Invest in creating and nurturing them.
  2. Consistency is key. You can integrate your distinctive assets across all touchpoints to amplify their impact.
  3. Don’t just think visually. Consider how your brand can be recognized through other senses, like touch.
  4. Aim for timelessness. The most powerful brand assets endure across decades and generations.

The Coca-Cola contour bottle is a masterclass in the power of distinctive assets. It reminds us that true distinction is a brand’s most powerful asset in a world of imitation.