Design shops raise Coke marketing to an art form

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Coke is art.

At least it was in the 1960s, when Andy Warhol dipped its iconic contour bottle in silver. Now, Coca-Cola is trying to recapture the days when the brand was woven by artists such as Keith Haring into the popular culture. Its marketing plan is code-named M5.

The name refers to the "Magnificent Five," far-flung new-media and design shops the Atlanta company has tapped to interpret what the marketer calls the brand's "optimism" through a series of short films and breakthrough bottle designs. Coordinated with the help of production shop the Ebeling Group, Coke recruited shops from five continents, including Designers Republic, Sheffield, England; MK12, Kansas City, Mo.; Lobo, Sao Paulo, Brazil; Caviar, Japan; and Rex Tennant McKay, Johannesburg, South Africa.

Coca-Cola "has grown apart from the art world" and the marketer wanted to "get back to that essence," said an Ebeling executive. "It's more than packaging," said a Coca-Cola spokesman. "It's an experiential concept."

The company's plan is still fluid, to say the least. With very few rules but lots of discussion on how to reintroduce Coke to Generations X, Y and Next, Coke and the designers are charged with creating an "iconic experience" for fashionable club-goers with collectible packaging, videos and music. How the videos and music will be distributed is still up in the air, but one thing is clear: There will be very little direct branding.


Coke gave the studios carte blanche to design creative interpretations of "optimism" within their respective countries. The project included creating graphics for new contour-bottle-shaped aluminum cans (some designs change under a black light) along with a three-minute to five-minute unbranded short film extending the interpretation using new music from trendsetting bands. The company is working to get the bottles distributed in red-hot nightclubs that cater to influentials.

Led by Marc Mathieu, VP-Coca-Cola franchise, the effort is being managed by Peter Schelstraete global brand manager, and Eugenio Mendez, global brand manager-Coca-Cola franchise. Mr. Shelstraete largely based the idea on earlier experimental work he'd done in Belgium with the help of Rock `N' Roll Agency and Rex to create branded parties at trendy clubs such as Culture Club in Gent, Belgium.

With the first entry, called "Love Being," from Designers Republic, London, to roll out by early September, the plan is for Coke to introduce each bottle and its corresponding video for a limited time-two to three months-before discontinuing it and launching the next one. MK12, Kansas City, set its video to Guided By Voices' "Back to the Lake" and is creating additional items such as posters, T-shirts and vinyl figurines. Coke has "a whole range of ancillary merchandise they want to manufacture around it," said designer Ben Radatz of MK12.

"The new generation grew up with the Internet and they have a very different view on life," said Rudo Botha, director, Rex & Tennant McKay, Johannesburg. "They don't relate any more to Coke. M5 will take the new brand into new places." Rex & Tennant McKay's video is called "One Is All We Are," with the song "All We Are" by Fischerspooner.

The teaser video for the campaign at or and later to be launched on avoids referencing the soft drink. Armchair Media, Atlanta, handled.

The project is so amorphous that even Coke insiders aren't sure what to make of it. When it was unveiled at the top 100 marketing executives confab in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in May, attendees had a mixed view, including new marketing boss Mary Minnick, said some executives. "It's a weird project for Coke," conceded Mateus Santos, creative director and partner at Lobo.

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