Empty glass bottles of Coca-Cola Light, also known as diet Coke, travel along a conveyor belt ahead of filling at the Lanitis Bros Ltd. bottling plant, part of the Coca-Cola Hellenic Group, in Nicosia, Cyprus, on Tuesday, June 10, 2014.
Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images
By Dan Mitchell
February 26, 2015

Coca-Cola is making a lot of the 100th anniversary of its iconic bottle. Given what’s happening with soda sales generally, and Coke sales in particular, the festivities come at a delicate time.

The celebration of the bottle includes an ad campaign in more than 100 countries featuring Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, and Ray Charles, and an exhibit at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta called “The Coca-Cola Bottle: An American Icon at 100.” The exhibit will include “more than 100 objects, including more than 15 works of art by Andy Warhol and more than 40 photographs inspired by or featuring the bottle,” the company said in a statement.

Warhol, of course, was pilloried for his seeming embrace of consumerism though works like the Campbell Soup Cans and Coke Bottles, though of course it wasn’t that simple. The result was that the counterculture had infiltrated consumer culture, and vice versa. Warhol, who saw consumer products as having a leveling effect, said this about Coke:

What’s great about this country is that America started the tradition where the richest consumers buy essentially the same things as the poorest. You can be watching TV and see Coca-Cola, and you know that the President drinks Coke, Liz Taylor drinks Coke, and just think, you can drink Coke, too. A Coke is a Coke and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking. All the Cokes are the same and all the Cokes are good. Liz Taylor knows it, the President knows it, the bum knows it, and you know it.

The original bottle was designed by the Root Glass Company in Indiana, nearly 30 years after the product was launched in 1886. Root won a contest where participants were challenged to “develop a container recognizable even if broken on the ground or touched in the dark.” Root’s design allowed consumers to recognize the product “even if they felt it in the dark,” according to Coke.

The celebration comes during a rough period for Coke. It has implemented a massive cost-cutting campaign. Its quarterly profits were down by 55%, it reported earlier this month. Meanwhile, sales of sugary soft drinks in general are plunging, having dropped by more than 20% between 2004 and 2014. In an effort to capitalize on consumers’ move away from sugar and toward protein, Coke has introduced Fairlife milk products. The bottles are pretty cool, but one can wonder if anybody will be celebrating them 100 years from now.

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