Coca-Cola kisses the past hello

Published:  July 10, 2015
Issac Teh

Coca-Cola’s iconic “hobbleskirt bottle” was created to be “recognisable even if broken on the ground or touched in the dark”. 2015 marks its 100th anniversary and the global icon is being celebrated with a crowdsourcing project challenging creatives around the world to create artwork inspired by the bottle. desktop speaks with James Sommerville, Coca-Cola’s Vice-President of Global Design, about the creativity surrounding the #MashupCoke project.


Congratulations on the success of the #MashupCoke project, for the benefit of our readers, can you tell us more about the concept behind “Kiss the Past Hello”?

That’s our way of saying, “Back to the Future”, but in a more Coca-Cola voice. When I first arrived, I spent a lot of time in the archives of Coca-Cola. And if you can possibly imagine, it’s quite extensive in terms of all the historical work that the company has produced. What I was starting to see was work produced in the 50s, 60s or 20s, therefore technically it’s dated and part of our history. What would happen if you gave some of those images and communication pieces to contemporary young designers of today and say, “Use this as your inspiration, use pieces from a particular decade, give us a new spin on it, put your own identity to it”. In many ways the outcome was that we got a very fresh take on Coca-Cola, but there’s a dotted line somewhere in our past, somewhere in our history that the image of the poster or identity they designed is based on. It’s embracing the past, kissing the past and saying hello to it and recreating it in a new way.


Why do you think so many creatives responded so well to the brief?

If you think about Coca-Cola as a product, it’s been in all our lives. We can possibly all remember that first Coke. So what’s fantastic about the Coca-Cola brand and bottle is it triggers this kind of memory, it’s all very personal to us all individually. What we thought when we gave the brief out is that people obviously have got their own feelings about Coca-Cola, it was an opportunity for them to be able to express themselves and the brand that they probably absolutely loved in their own way.

Not only that, it’s a rare opportunity for young designers to be able to work with such a large corporation. We’re really trying to develop a collaborative design model. I think that’s why we got such a compelling response because many people were surprised that Coca-Cola would even reach out to individual designers. But that’s just a sign of the times that we are in and that’s the way that we will develop our design theme going forward.

The travelling art exhibition, “Coca-Cola Bottle Art Tour: Inspiring Pop Culture for 100 Years”, arrives in Australia in November, what can people expect when they go to see it?

You’ll be able to see the evolution. It has an element of looking back and it also has an element of how artists and designers over the hundred years have really been inspired. There’s some classic artwork, there’s also some digital, more playful kind of contemporary pieces with the mash-up. It’s about projecting the future as well. I would say in terms of who would be interested in the exhibition, I’m thinking it would be grandparents taking their grandchildren and everybody in between because there’s something for all ages.


What kind of challenges does Coca-Cola face in the present day as a brand?

I think it’s important for a brand like Coca-Cola not to sit back. It would be very easy for them to relax and say “We’ve done it”. But I think for the next 100 years and beyond, into the next generation of people who will enjoy Coca-Cola, we have to continue to keep pushing and looking for new ways to express ourselves. Experimentation and collaboration are key to those, it’s the way people work today. In many ways, it resets itself for the generation that it’s communicating to and appealing to. And I think that’s also the way the business side runs, it resets itself to make sure it’s still very current in the way it operates, as well as in the way it projects itself to the consumer.

You’ve been at Coca-Cola for a good amount of time and have also done some work for Coca-Cola while you were still at Attik. How different is it working for them and working within the company as part of the family?

It’s a bit like looking behind the Wizard of Oz curtain. You know you get to see the inner workings of something you could see from the outside. The fantastic thing about why I am so privileged to be in the role is really being part of an organisation and a very broad but very strong leadership team with some brilliant minds in marketing and innovation, I mean these are the kinds of things I think are very difficult to see from the outside. Even if you’re a very close agency. So in that respect I think I knew it before I arrived but I look back now and think I only knew a certain amount but now I’ve seen the real side of the organisation, hopefully with our design team contributing in a small way as well.


Last but not least, your thoughts on the Mad Men finale?

People really enjoyed it and like any TV show, they follow season by season and ultimately want to feel at the end like there’s a degree of a finale. It needs to be a finale right? How smart it was for Matthew Weiner to write that in, Don Draper was portrayed as one of the greatest ad men of that era, he coupled that with potentially one of the greatest tv commercials ever made. That was very smart on his part, there has been a super positive reaction to it, so it was fantastic to see it all come together in that respect.

The travelling art exhibition, “Coca-Cola Bottle Art Tour: Inspiring Pop Culture for 100 Years”, arrives in Australia in November.

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