Coca Cola's M5

January 1, 2006
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Coca Cola's M5
By Jennifer Zegler
When Design, Marketing and Manufacturing…Collaborate
They are urban, hip and chic. Their launch was accompanied by music videos. And they are only available in top bars and nightclubs around the world.

No, they are not the latest super premium vodkas or high class cocktails. They are the new M5 series of aluminum Coca-Cola bottles, part of a marketing campaign meant to build equity in the brand.

Called M5 for “magnificent five”, the collection features five direct-to-aluminum printed bottles created by design studios from around the world; each bottle in the series will be available as a limited-edition launch on a global basis.

According to Andras Kallos, senior manager of marketing communications at The Coca-Cola Company, the concept is part of a new communications platform meant to offer a holistic experience to the consumer. “The five different bottle designs will be complemented by original short movies and music that will be used in launch activities and to bring the new designs to life,” he says.

Coca-Cola is an iconic brand with worldly appeal but, with the M5 series, the company chose to address a specific market segment. As Kallos explains, “The concept was developed to appeal to trend-setting young adults who seek new ways to express their desire for originality, fun and optimism.”

The project is also notable in that it was the result of close collaboration between Coca-Cola’s corporate packaging development and marketing teams. “The bottle is a great example of art and science coming together,” says Scott Biondich, the company’s global packaging manager of soft drinks. “Our marketing and technical teams worked side-by-side throughout the development.”

The project began with the contour aluminum bottle, explains Biondich, who, along with global group brand manager Eugenio Mendez, led the project. “A technical colleague of mine, Katie Allen, and I took the idea of a contour aluminum bottle to our corporate marketing group and the marketing team built this incredible experience around the foundation of the bottle,” Biondich says.

From that idea, the team globe-trotted and worked with local Coca-Cola associates to gather research on the intended audience, “We went to several areas of the world, trying to understand trendsetters. And we saw some common themes,” Biondich explains. And while there were obvious cultural differences in each market, he says those common themes—including similar tastes in fashion and music—led the team to believe it had a bottle concept that would be successful.

Although Coca-Cola has done similar packages with full body shrink sleeves on contour glass bottles and has separately commercialized straight-walled aluminum bottles in Japan, this was the first multi-country campaign. Yet, the development of the 250-mL impact-extruded M5 Series bottles presented an obstacle.

“The biggest challenge was shaping,” Biondich explains. “We wanted our proprietary contour shape; we didn’t want to move forward with a generic straight-walled bottle. The printing is done on the bottle when it is in the cylindrical form so there were no real challenges there.  We were the first to develop a bottle with a fully shaped body though; that’s what is new from a manufacturing and consumer experience standpoint.”

The Exal Corporation of Youngstown, Ohio, supplies the bottles, and Italy’s Frattini S.p.A. provides the shaping technology, which relied on numerous dies to shape the bottle. The bottle graphics are printed with UV-sensitive inks that reveal a different design motif when the package is viewed under a black light.

The overall effect is a significant creative departure for Coca-Cola, though Kallos explains that the historic connection between the Coca-Cola brand and art influenced the decision to move forward on the project, “The iconic image of the brand Coca-Cola has been used by artists in original artwork, perhaps the most famous being Andy Warhol. We decided to tap this creative energy by selecting design studios with talented artists and give them the absolute freedom to express themselves with our product,” he says. “The results of this ‘iconic handover’ have been fantastic.”

And it all happened in a rapid timeline, Biondich says, “It was incredibly fast. It was slightly more than a year from when Katie and I took the idea to the global Coca-Cola marketing team to when the bottles hit the market.” It’s a timeline that, he says, is desirable. “It was a great execution by our whole global team; we need to duplicate this project and turn other new projects around just as quickly.”

Last spring Coca-Cola marketing teams previewed prototypes of the first design, the ‘Love Being’ bottle, at various global events. “We had an event last March in Belgium and one in Argentina and observed the consumer response,” Biondich says. “It was a way to take it to the public in a quiet, controlled manner. The reaction was extremely positive. We had people sneaking the bottles out of the clubs and selling them on e-Bay.”

That first design, created by The Designers Republic in the UK, was subsequently launched globally last summer; it featured red, yellow and pink heart, butterfly and lava lamp-like curved designs against the silver backdrop of the aluminum bottle.

The remaining four M5 bottles will be launched, one design at a time, over the next year in all of the global markets participating in the project. A Kansas City-based design firm, Mk12 designed one of the five bottles and the accompanying marketing vehicles, including a short movie that showcases the firm’s trademark use of film, nostalgic images and graphics.

“Each [design] will be available for only a limited time and will not recur, making the packages true collectibles generating long-term excitement for consumers,” Kallos says. “The iconic visual impact of the package and the accompanying experience of the short films and music will allow consumers to ‘discover’ the new packaging and is expected to create a strong word of mouth.”

Word of mouth, indeed. Since the first design launched in Europe, the international media have been buzzing about the ultra-cool bottles. “[The initial response] has been great,” Biondich says. “The bottle is making art and fashion magazines. High-end retailers are putting it in their window displays. Our China division just launched a new ‘World of Coca-Cola’, and the aluminum bottle was a big part of that.”

The public and media are not the only ones noticing. The packaging supplier, Exal Corporation, won two packaging awards for the M5 bottles at The Cans of the Year Awards in Spain this past September.

The company points out that the fashion-forward M5 concept is not replacing the classic image of its brand; it’s merely reintroducing the brand to hipsters and, in effect, replacing their cocktail glasses with aluminum bottles.

“It’s great because when they tested it, people [were] walking around with a branded Coca-Cola aluminum bottle instead of dumping out the product in a glass with ice and liquor,” Biondich explains.

Coca-Cola also created M5 marketing materials that extend the product’s presence in nightclubs and discos, including rings, dog tags and VIP kits designed to offer a more premium experience for clubgoers. “In the V.I.P. area you’re not buying beverage by beverage, you’re buying a bottle of liquor,” Biondich says. “With the [M5] kit you get a bottle of alcohol and several Coca-Cola aluminum bottles in a special suitcase.”

The integrated marketing effort speaks to the collaboration that went on behind the scenes. “The development was a true global effort within Coca-Cola,” says Biondich. “Eugenio Mendez led the marketing development, I led the technical development. And we had numerous colleagues in corporate Coca-Cola, our global divisions and our bottlers that worked closely together to make this a success.”
Such a success that Biondich says, “It may be the most significant packaging development at Coca-Cola since the introduction of the contour PET bottle in the mid-1980s.”  BP

The author, Jennifer Zegler, is a contributing editor to BRANDPACKAGING and is the assistant editor of Stagnito’s Rollout. Contact her at jzegler@stagnito.com.

Coca-Cola Blak Mainstreams Aluminum
In January, Coca-Cola launched Coca-Cola Blak in France. The coffee-infused soft drink was introduced in a brown, gold and amber aluminum bottle that features a classic crown cap and understated graphics. The bottle is decorated by direct offset printing when the package is in cylindrical form, then shaped via a series of die-necking processes provided by the French facility of U.S.-based Exal Corporation. Blak is expected to hit the U.S. market before the end of the year. “The aluminum bottle first used for our M5 series package was the perfect package platform for our new, innovative beverage, Blak,” says Scott Biondich, Coca-Cola’s global packaging manager for carbonated beverages.

Where to go for more information...
M5 marketing. Videos and design firm information can be found at www.theM5.com.
Bottle manufacturing equipment. At Frattini, phone 035 294170 or visit www.frattinispa.com
Aluminum bottles. At Exal Corporation, phone +33 (0) 474 79 22 06 or visit www.exal.com.
Package and multimedia design. At Mk12, phone 816.931.2425 or visit www.mk12.com.
Package and multimedia design. At The Designers Republic, phone +44 114 275 4982 or visit www.thedesignersrepublic.com.

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