Brad Rencher, Executive Vice President at Adobe, kicked off the first day of this year’s Adobe Summit London with a speech on why ‘experiences’ are at the heart of the most successful brands.
Coca Cola is arguably one of the biggest experience-based brands of all time, with both its past and future shaped by how it is able to communicate the idea that there is no better one than drinking an ice cold Coke.
Also at Summit was James Sommerville, VP of Global Design at The Coca Cola Company, talking about how Coke designs the digital experience to be every bit as real as the physical.
Here are a few key takeaways from his talk.
Making Coke relevant for modern consumers
James kicked off with a question – how exactly can a brand stay relevant when its product hasn’t changed for over 131 years?
This continues to be a big challenge for Coca Cola, but arguably, it has also been a factor in its success. After all, the Coca Cola brand is as instantly recognisable as the taste of the drink, meaning it does not need to work too hard to differentiate itself.
But of course, in such a comptetive market, being recognisable to modern consumers is not enough. It needs to be relevant.
James spoke about the importance of innovation within the company, specifically how it has used up-and-coming designers to help inform the evolution of its design. He cited the example of Jonathan Mak – a designer who created ‘Coke hands’ – the image of two people shaking hands around a Coke bottle, built around the brand’s original and iconic ribbon design. By introducing the notion of togetherness, it naturally evoked the idea of people coming together to share enjoyment in the product.
James also spoke about the ‘Contour Mash-up Project,’ which involved asking 100 designers around the world to create posters based on what they imagine the famous Coca Cola bottle will look like in the next 100 years.
Not only did the results help Coca Cola to let go of some of its old rules of identity, but it also helped create a visual language for the brand. Some of the entries went on to inspire and directly inform the design of Coke products and brand experiences.
Creating infectious campaigns
Share a Coke is one of the most successful marketing campaigns of all time – bolstered by the force of social media and sheer consumer favour. Interestingly, James referenced it when speaking about the brand’s digital presence in out-of-home spaces such as Times Square.
While displaying a name (e.g. ‘Sophie’ or ‘James’) on a digital billboard in the middle of New York sounds relatively simple – the impact for the consumer is huge. It enables the brand to use its digital presence to forge a one-to-one connection with the individual. Which, in such a saturated space, presents an incredibly valuable opportunity.
It is not just personalised aspects that help consumers relate to the digital experience, of course. Coca Cola uses real-time effects in its out-of-home advertising, reflecting the surrounding context with things like weather-related imagery or news headlines.
In doing so, it effectively becomes a live and ever-changing visual representation of the brand.
Using history to say hello to the future
So, how will the Coca Cola brand continue to evolve in future?
Unsurprisingly, its design hallmarks – such as the red disc and swirly font – will remain unchanged. However, with the aim of uniting the brand under a single identity, the different colours of products like Coke Zero and Coke Life will be replaced by a uniform red and silver.
This fusion of the past and present continues in its campaign imagery. James cited old Norman Rockwell ads as inspiration behind the latest ‘Taste the Feeling’ campaign. Instead of taking direct influence, however, Coke ensures that the ads resonate with a modern audience by depicting decidedly modern experiences.
Using the vintage style made famous by Rockwell – whose paintings are much-loved for their intense detail and storytelling – Coke pairs it with jarringly modern images, such as a young boy taking a selfie or girls sunbathing.
Meanwhile, as the official sponsors of the 2018 World Cup, Coca Cola will also aim to fuse together the two experiences evoked by both Coke and football.
From the typeface (inspired by Russia) to the new product packaging (which will include score predictors on caps) – it is yet another example of a brand that continuously uses design to innovate as well as honour its long-standing history.