Today, you probably know Diet Coke for its silver and red branding–which is more or less how it’s looked since Coca-Cola’s sugar-free alternative first launched in 1982. But starting this month, in a market where diet soda sales are down, Diet Coke is going bespoke, as millions of unique designs are hitting U.S. shelves for the first time as part of a campaign called “It’s Mine.”
So for the next several months, no two 12-ounce bottles of Diet Coke will look exactly alike.
“Personalization and customization is a huge trend, obviously,” says Rafael Acevedo, group director of Diet Coke in North America. With Coca-Cola’s first major personalization campaign, Share a Coke in 2014, the company put thousands of people’s names onto bottles. The idea was that you’d spot someone’s name and want to buy them a Coke–and it’s an idea that worked, with measurable uptake in both short term sales and longer term brand loyalty. For Diet Coke, that concept got a tweak. “In this case, it’s more personal, “Acevedo says, “to have that sense that Diet Coke is giving you something no one else can have.”
Coca-Cola ran a similar campaign in Israel last year, but it was on a smaller scale, and the bottles were more or less neon-infused abstractions. For the U.S. campaign, Coca-Cola created a more specific visual identity that would reinforce the concept of the soft drink itself. It hired an external marketing firm to create 36 core designs by hand. Many were physical pieces of art that, while leaning toward abstract aesthetics, still captured specific brand touchpoints: bubbles, fizz, taste, and spirit, in rich jewel tones chosen to complement Diet Coke silver. Coca-Cola then passed this art to HP, which digitized the designs and set up an algorithm that could generate infinite new variations in each design.
Algorithms, of course, can make mistakes. With millions of computer-generated illustrations, it almost seems bound to print something strange or unintentionally offensive on the bottle. When I bring up the concern to Acevedo, he’s more than cognizant of it. “We do make sure, the way the designs are built, it minimizes what you’re outlining,” he says. “We do trust HP, but our team is also very involved, too.” On top of that, it appears the algorithm primarily did zooming and rotating work on the original designs, rather than actual graphic generation, which alleviates the risk of strange quirks cropping up.
As for how “It’s Mine” will impact Diet Coke’s brand into the future, many big decisions are still up in the air. It’s the first time that Coca-Cola’s iconic 12-ounce bottle has been used for Diet Coke. Will the bottle stick around after the campaign is done? That’s uncertain. And while “It’s Mine” will play out on some cans and plastic bottles, if those items sell well, could we see Coca-Cola take on these other SKUs with the same level of bespoke customization? Nothing seems totally off the table, so long as it still feels like you’re drinking a Coke.
“I think that, we see [customization] as a big trend, and it’s something we want to continue to leverage marketing products going forward,” Acevedo says. “[But] obviously, we use that to try to link back to the experience of the brand.”