The Feel of a Coke

A Coke bottle, that is. I’m teaching Trademarks and Unfair Competition this fall at Wayne State, and one of the first examples I use to illustrate how consumers recognize marks is the distinctive Coca-Cola bottle design. It was trademarked in 1959 (see Registration 0696147 at the USPTO site). Now, Coke is changing the bottle, slightly, to be more eco-friendly and to be easier to open. I blogged previously about the risks involved in modifying one’s own brands (calling out Ford and Tab). In discussing the post (which I shamelessly assigned to my class to read), one of my students mentioned that customer expectations are key: if car buyers expect that the Taurus will change year-to-year, and the difference between the old Taurus and the new Five Hundred (er, Taurus) is less than that standard expectation, the shift may not be as problematic as I portray. This is a great insight – one of the joys of teaching! – and I think it applies here as well: the new bottle alters the old design, but gradually, and it maintains existing consumer associations (at least, according to Coke’s testing).

Are there any other good examples out there of companies altering or manipulating their own trademarks, either for good or ill?

5 Responses to “The Feel of a Coke”

  1. Derek, it must have been something in the water supply at Baker House (or else it’s just an obvious gimmick), but I use a Coke bottle for exactly the same purpose, to exemplify a strong trademark, the first day of my Intro to IP course. (Actually had to go to this nutty place outside Cincinnati to find an authentic glass bottle; our local supermarket stocked only plastic bottles or cans.) Isn’t Coke itself, and specifically, the ill-fated “New Coke” experiment, one of the best examples of a company trashing its own mark? It took them the better part of a decade to recover the lost goodwill from that one, I think.

  2. Two words: Federal Express –> FedEx.

    You might also appreciate the work of the good folks at: http://www.namedevelopment.com/blog/

    They have a lot of discussions of name changes.

  3. Apple, the computer company, has changed their trademarks several times. Most recently they shortened their name from Apple Computer to just Apple.

    This name change reflects the increasing importance of non-computer products in the offerings (e.g., iPhone, iPod, iTV).

    They also change their logo every few years.

    In keeping with your student’s theory they don’t change it so much that it confuses customers; just enough to keep up with their evolving needs. It is likely Apple changes the logo to ensure it fits with the look and feel of its products, both the hardware and the software’s user interface.

  4. Kentucky Fried Chicken –> KFC

    In Jamaica, at least, there were rumors (especially circulating by email) that by taking the word “chicken” out of the name, KFC were not legally obligated to use real chicken in their products, and they would be switching over to something less savory. I don’t know if it affected sales but I came across the discussion multiple times.

  5. Cingular is now the new AT&T!