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Celebrating the 100th Birthday of the Coca-Cola Bottle with Cortana Intelligence

By Microsoft Customer Stories on April 20, 2017

Filed under Retail & Consumer Goods

Coca Cola's brand logoMaybe none of us will ever become a 100-year-old American icon, but there is one we can all take a picture with. Coca-Cola is celebrating the 100th birthday of its famous bottle, a shape designed to be so familiar that people would “recognize it even if they felt it in the dark.” More than 5 billion of the bottles were sent to US troops in WWII, and those famous curves are now recognized the world over. They have been memorialized by Andy Warhol and featured in museum exhibits. They’ve even inspired car design. And now, thanks to Microsoft’s How-Old.net based on Cortana Intelligence, the innovation continues into the age of social media with a modern twist. With machine learning technology, you can have your age guessed alongside the venerable Coke bottle and share the results online to celebrate the #CokeBottleBirthday. 

The search for a 21st-century experience

When Coca-Cola debuted in 1886, the company estimates that nine servings were sold daily in the first year from a Mississippi soda fountain. Today, more than 1.9 billion servings of Coca-Cola beverages are sold worldwide every day, but that’s only part of the story. Coca-Cola is an indelible part of American culture, with a bottle as shapely and familiar to us as Marilyn Monroe. And as the company prepared to celebrate the birthday of its 100-year-old bottle, it wanted to offer Coke fans a new, 21st-century experience.

Just how old are you, anyway?

At a developer conference in May 2015, a small Microsoft team created a website called How-Old.net to showcase the potential of real-time analytics and machine learning. Based on the Cortana Intelligence Suite with the Cognitive Services capabilities, the web app could predict the age and gender of faces in photos. Designed to make data science more approachable and less esoteric, the appeal of the experiment exceeded the development team’s wildest expectations. Within a week, more than 380 million images had been submitted to the site by 50 million users worldwide. It was featured on TV shows, trended on Twitter, and was even the subject of a New Yorker comic.

The path to innovation doesn’t always follow a straight line. The experiment also caught the attention of a marketing team at the Coca-Cola Company, which was intrigued by the creative possibility. Then Coca-Cola offices as distant as Kazakhstan, Russia, and the United States began creating mockups of How-Old.net with the Coca-Cola bottle. Ultimately, the whimsical projects led to a collaboration with Microsoft.

Image and age recognition are inherent in the Coca-Cola brand, a theme that dovetailed nicely with the How-Old.net concept. “The idea behind our 100-year-old bottle design is that you should be able to identify it even if it’s in shards on the ground,” says Simon Cowart, Global Social Media Strategist at The Coca-Cola Company. “So it was an entrepreneurial endeavor on our part and Microsoft’s to experiment with the social space and see what we could make happen.”

Creating new social spaces through advanced analytics

Based on the Cognitive Services technology, How-Old.net analyzes data including facial imagery to gain insights including age and gender. Coca-Cola pushed the Microsoft team to take the project a step beyond facial recognition by using machine learning to detect individual objects in pictures. For one month, the site would invite users to submit a photo of themselves and a Coca-Cola bottle with a visible logo to see what happens. If the web app detects a bottle, the bottle’s age appears and the page turns red. Then, Coke fans are encouraged to share their experience on social media and to visit the Coca-Cola Journey site to learn more about the venerable contour bottle as part of its 100th year celebration. It provides Coca-Cola with a fun, engaging way to connect with consumers across the globe, using advanced analytics and machine learning to create relevant and exciting experiences that could satiate the need for content we all have in this social world.

“This experiment with How-Old.net also really signifies the relevance of this bottle as a brand and icon for the company,” says Cowart. “We’ve all drunk a Coca-Cola, and that iconic glass bottle gives us an experience unlike any other. It’s something that we know is worth celebrating, especially in a new age where the singular experience of one consumer can be shared with hundreds of thousands of people.”

Closing the gap between personal and brand identity

Besides introducing consumers to Cortana Intelligence and giving them a new way to enjoy Coca-Cola, the project takes a fresh look at social media. “One of the remarkable things about the social space is how quickly it’s changing,” notes Cowart. “It’s a place where you have to be experimental. Nobody knows the secret formula for viral marketing success, right? How-Old.net captured the imagination of more people than anyone anticipated. And we learned a lot about the social space by using this technology to celebrate that iconic bottle and the moments it creates in our consumers’ lives.

Coca-Cola is using today’s machine learning to take a new look at a century-old icon. “With How-Old.net based on Cortana Intelligence technology, we’re enabling people to tell their story through our brand,” Cowart says. “Instead of bringing people to our brand story, we’re bringing our brand to their life story, where it belongs. It’s a subtle difference, but an important one. It’s projects like this that allow us to be playful and experimental, which is exactly what our new digital world is all about if we’re doing it right, and that’s why I’m so proud of the work we did for this commemoration.”

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