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Coca-Cola returned to its roots earlier this year when it introduced a shapely new 20-ounce plastic bottle.

With new plastic bottling technology and a talented team effort led by Susan McWhorter, the 61/2-ounce glass bottle that originated in 1915 has been transformed into a shape for the '90s.

"The contour shape instantly communicates quality and value. It is especially popular among teen-agers. ... They find the shape new and appealing," says Ms. McWhorter, 30, director of package development and project director for the initiative.

For the past two years, Ms. McWhorter and her core team developed not only the packaging but the bottle's marketing plan.

They started in early 1992, with market research that showed consumers overwhelmingly preferred the contour shape. Then came the tests-conducted last year in Birmingham, Ala., Chattanooga, Tenn., and Boston-that got enormously positive results. In some markets, sales increased as much as 66%.

The bottle started its national rollout in March in Chicago, and according to company figures it posted double-digit increases in that city in just the first two months, compared with last year's "straight bottle" sales.

It's estimated about 55 million cases of the 20-ounce Coke will be sold this year nationwide.

The marketing program for the introduction included a three-part outdoor teaser campaign and a four-week spot TV campaign created by Fallon McElligott, Minneapolis. Print, radio and direct-mail promotion targeting teens-themed "Always Feels Right. Always Coca-Cola"-are a part of the campaign.

"The contour bottle will appear on all of our advertisements as well as on our cans," says Ms. McWhorter, who joined Coca-Cola eight years ago as an intern. The rollout will continue through 1995, with Ms. McWhorter continuing to shape its direction.

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