Lesson from a Coca-Cola Bottle

Sharing is not just for social media.

Personalized pop bottle label. Genius marketing. #ShareACoke

The Backstory

When I traveled to Cape Town, South Africa, I didn’t expect to see a little taste of home. When I arrived at a conference check-in desk in Atlanta, Georgia, I didn’t expect to receive a personalized beverage.

In reviewing the two different scenarios in Atlanta and Capetown, the global presence and sophistication of the Coca-Cola brand and marketing machine was evident, welcoming, and doing exactly what it was supposed to do… encourage sharing.

The Object

Left: Customized Coke label; Right: Coke can from South Africa 2003

Not too many brands and containers are more recognizable than the Coca-Cola bottle, with its patented shape and copyrighted logo. It’s an American and global icon.

Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.A.

November 2015. I was attending a vendor-hosted conference, and after a round of handshakes and hugs, I approached the registration desk. I was given my name badge and the traditional bag of goodies.

Inside the bag was a Coke bottle… with my name on it! What?! Apparently, I was living under a rock and didn’t know this was a thing.

The vendor took the extra time and paid a few extra bucks to have a customized label made just for me.

To this day, this gesture has stuck with me, and the vendor remains a valuable partner. What a great way to welcome a customer to an event that is beyond the mass “thank you” gifts and a warm, fuzzy tchotchke. In case you’re wondering… thank you MemberSuite for being awesome.

Fun fact… I still haven’t opened the bottle. I was so moved that I immediately ordered a bunch of them for friends and family. I wanted to share the same feeling I got when seeing my name on the label. I win. Others win. Coke wins.

Capetown, South Africa

July 2003. After a 20-something-hour flight to Capetown and 2 of 4 weeks completed on a consulting trip, I was getting tired of being away from home. So, I made a special trip to a grocery store in the V&A Waterfront and was amazed at the number of recognizable brands there were to buy.

Of course what caught my eye was a strange-looking can of Coke. It was a lot taller and narrower than the typical can I was used to seeing.

At 450 milliliters, that’s almost 100 milliliters MORE than what we typically see in the United States (12 oz can = 354.882 ml). And I thought we drank a lot of pop! Of course, I couldn’t just get one for me… I had to get one for my friends too. So, here I was thousands of miles away from home, and I’m buying and drinking a Coke with my buddies.

Fun fact… I still have the can, but this one is empty. Not sure if I’ll ever get back to South Africa, but I have the memory of sharing a Coke with friends in one of the furthest places away from home.

The Lesson

It’s not too often I find myself wrangling a story related to marketing that doesn’t also involve technology. In the case of sharing, Coca-Cola finally focused on what people DO, while consuming their product.

They share. Experiences. Products.

And, just like when Lego finally understood its customers, sharing a product or experience you like with someone else has always been a thing.

The Take-aways:

  • Marketing needs to focus on the fundamentals of human behavior.
  • Technology and marketing are connected like a strand of DNA.
  • Personalization has long-tail effects — you just need to be patient.
  • Sharing life experiences with others is what makes life worth living.
“There are never any traffic jams on the extra mile.” Brian Tracy

Sharing a drink with a friend is nothing new. Now, we just have a hashtag to go along with it… #ShareACoke… another example of marketing technology taking advantage of another basic human characteristic.

Written by Shaun Holloway.