First Name Fever: Why ‘Share a Coke’ in Europe Is a Big Win for Color Digital in Labels

This month consumers in Europe are beginning to see Coca Cola bottles on retail shelves labeled in a new way. Each bottle has the brand’s familiar swoosh graphic and red and white colors, but with iconic brand name reduced or cut out entirely. Instead, the words “Coca Cola” on the bottle have been mostly replaced by one of 150 most popular first names in the country where the drink is sold. HP Indigo WS6600s are printing all the names, essentially a giant exercise in versioning—over 800 million labels will be used between now and the end of Q3. Special kiosks will be on tour in the region so consumers can personalize their own Coca-Cola bottles. Coca Cola is also enlisting social media, first by encouraging Facebook users to create a virtual personalized Coke can to share with someone, and then look for their own names on bottles in stores. The deal is historic, not just because it’s for Coca Cola, but because it likely is, in effect, the biggest color digital label print job ever.

The marketing campaign, dubbed Share a Coke, is designed to engage with consumers, country by country, by offering them the chance to find bottles with their first names, or the names of friends. Coca-Cola has launched the program in more than 30 European nations. Besides using the 150 most popular local names, the campaign uses various slogans about sharing Coca-Cola with friends and family. Earlier editions of this program in Australia (2011) and New Zealand (2012) were big successes.

As noted, HP Indigo presses are at the heart of the new campaign in Europe. Printing of 150 versions per country was done randomly on batches of labels for 0.5L and 375ml bottles of Coca-Cola. First they were conventionally printed on gravure or flexo presses, but leaving a blank panel and a re-registration mark for overprinting by the HP Indigo. All this printing—hybrid analog & digital, for hundreds of millions of labels—required complex management, and the cooperation of eight converters spread through Austria, Germany, Finland, Netherlands, and Romania, each equipped with HP Indigo WS6600. All were led by Eshuis of The Netherlands, the converter behind the Heineken personalized beer labeling. The team of converters completed the printing in time for a launch in early May. (For a detailed report, see the June issue of Labels and Labeling magazine… www.labelsandlabeling.com )

The news marks a big win for HP Indigo, and for color digital label printing, for a few reasons:

  • Coca Cola, one of the world’s best known brands, so its digital printing is high profile.
  • The deal highlights digital printing’s facility for versioning, to handle dozens of languages and even different alphabets.
  • Given its successes so far, the Share a Coke campaign will probably move on to other regions.
  • HP Indigo tested inkjet and all other digital press options for the job, and steered its WS6600 into prominence.

On the last point, the first version of Share a Coke, in Australia, relied on inkjet, reportedly by Agfa Dotrix, which is now out of production. The cited reasons for HP Indigo’s win over other options: WS6600 lays down the same weight of ink as flexo or gravure; it has good color consistency; it handles cavitated BOPP films well. Two 38 micron BOPP facestocks were used, one opaque white and one metalized (the white was also printed with metallic silver ink).

What InfoTrends Thinks

After Share a Coke boosts Coca Cola sales in Europe this spring and summer, the program will fade there (the printing has been done, and there is no mention of further runs), but it will also pave the way for the same campaign later in another region. The aftereffects of Share a Coke, though, will be wider than that. Other brands will follow Coca Cola’s versioning example with their own variants. Also, this giant versioning run was a hybrid job; given the volumes involved, inkjet printing in-line with conventional could yet be the chosen technology for a follow-on campaign. In any event, print versioning in label and package printing will move up a notch as a way to connect with consumers, especially with help from social media, with color digital printing as the key. We note that InfoTrends will produce a major report this summer, Packaging and the Brand Owner: Europe, which will survey 250 brands in the region and 100 converters who serve them. Their views, and the many packaging developments in the region besides the ’Share a Coke’ program, will be our focus.

 

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