Ever since the “Share a Coke” campaign kicked off in Kenya earlier this month, thirsty fans countrywide have been clamouring to find their names on bottles of Coca-Cola. Some have struck gold, while others have left the store empty-handed. As many may already know, Coca Cola’s hugely successful international promotion “Share A Coke” originally started in Australia in 2011 and has since been rolling out around the world, making its African premiere in South Africa towards the end of 2013. This promotion, targetted mainly at teens and millennials, is intended to allow people to take the Coca-Cola script and replace it with their name on a bottle or can of the well-known beverage. For those with less popular or rare names, the digital version of the “Share a Coke” promotion allows users to create a virtual can with their names which is generated in .png format and available for download and social media sharing.
From an intellectual property (IP) perspective, this ‘de-branding’ campaign by Coca Cola is an eye-opener. It is no secret that the Coca-Cola Company has spent billions of dollars registering, protecting and enforcing its IP rights all over the world. For years, “Coca-Cola”, “Coke”, the Contour Bottle Design and the Dynamic Ribbon Device have been registered trademarks of The Coca-Cola Company. Having gone to such lengths to secure its IP rights, the Coca-Cola Company suddenly ditches the iconic “Coca-Cola” name from its bottles and allows the printing of names and other words on its products?!
Clearly, the Sales and Marketing guys in the room overpowered the Legal types when the idea for this ‘de-branding’ campaign was pitched and approved. While it is hard for an IP lawyer to quantify the risks of free-riding, diminishing distinctiveness, dilution and other harm to the Company’s trade marks as a result of “Share A Coke” campaign, the Sales and Marketing guys will have no problem showing how the campaign has boosted sales, provided the Company with enormous amounts of user-generated promotional content and driven traffic to the Company’s web and social media platforms.
Finally, this blogger would invite readers to share any IP-related commentaries and articles on the “Share A Coke” campaign.