Message in a Bottle

Is There a Unique Lesson in Coke’s Bottle Campaigns?

Customisation_coke_lCoca Cola sells billions upon billions of bottles of its namesake drink per year. Coke has essentially become a commodity item and now faces competition from adjacent products like energy drinks and spring water. The company has been looking to maintain excitement in its brand with some interesting marketing campaigns. The bottles themselves can be something rather unique — a completely distinctive product in some cases.

Coke ran a campaign in Israel called the Extraordinary Diet Coke Collection, in which each bottle was wrapped in a distinct artistic design that meant no two bottles were the same. The company claims that the marketing strategy led to a 3% increase in brand preference and a 2% increase in sales. It’s certainly better than going backwards. Across Europe, the beverage maker ran its Share a Coke campaign with thousands of first names replacing the iconic Coke logo on the bottle. The contents might be the same, but the container can tell a brief story about its owner.

Mass-differentiation and mass-customisation campaigns are nothing new, but improved printing technologies mean that such differentiating approaches could catch on, and 3D printing could take customisation to a much higher level.

There’s been inspiration from other industries as well, with the likes of Nike’s NIKEiD service having long been a poster child of mass customisation. The service allows consumers to become their own designers, selecting the colours and patterns of their shoes via a Flash-based Web site. Shoppers can also select among a series of crowd-sourced designs. In the world of mass production, a major company like Nike can claim something’s custom made. Several competitors such as Adidas and Vans have since begun offering a similar service. Uniqueness is approaching the ordinary.

Everyday consumer goods can be turned into something approaching a piece of art. So, with more than a billion smartphones sold per year, is it time for device manufacturers to empower customers to build their own?

Handset makers have certainly tried. Nokia, for example, ran a trial similar to NIKEiD that allowed consumers to design their own covers — an experiment with mixed results. More recently, Motorola has been offering consumers the chance to order a personalised Moto X device using the Moto Maker service. This isn’t mass personalisation, but it certainly allows consumers to differentiate their phone from all the similar-looking devices on the market. Moving to mass customisation is a challenge in an industry always looking for extreme efficiencies in mass production. Makers of accessories are already addressing the need for something just a little different, with plenty of services offering custom-designed phone cases. Can handset manufacturers make this native to the device?

As Amazon’s Jeff Bezos might say, some people want their houses purple. Billions of homogenised rectangular-screened devices are sold each year, and new manufacturing techniques could empower users to be choosers. Real customisation of smart devices currently occurs underneath the hood, with consumers installing the apps and wallpapers to their liking: over time, no two devices are the same. However, the consumer’s desire to be conspicuously different could drive a unique market for hardware.

The logistics will be tricky, but it’s likely that a device manufacturer can make mass customisation a real thing. It could be something refreshing for the industry.