As proof that great ideas can come from anywhere, the origins of a stunning Coca-Cola print ad from Germany that won a Cannes Lion this summer can be traced back more than a year to a global design director’s sketch on his bathroom mirror.

Tom Farrell was brushing his teeth one night in November 2013, mulling over a design conundrum, when he used his finger to trace a familiar shape in the condensation clouding his reflection.

“If you’ve ever attempted to draw the Coca-Cola bottle, you realise just how difficult it actually is,” the Atlanta-based designer said. “Contour is a super-simple shape, but very hard to draw.”

Slightly disappointed with his doodle, he held up his hands to form the iconic shape. “And voilà, there it was in the space between my palms,” he said. “Then I realised that just by adding a cap between your fingertips for support, and with your mind filling in the gaps, you could create a perfect contour shape.”

Farrell created the sketch – dubbed “Hands” – in response to a creative challenge from Global Design VP James Sommerville, who tasked his team with reinterpreting and reimagining iconic print ads featuring the Coca-Cola bottle using only three colors: red, black and white. “The Coca-Cola brand is so familiar and ubiquitous that it may sometimes become wallpaper,” Farrell said. “This project reminded us just how much alchemy is in the brand and its timeless equities.”

Response was so strong that the #MashupCoke project eventually extended beyond Sommerville’s team. More than 130 artists, designers and illustrators submitted 250-plus pieces, many of which are featured in a 2015 marketing campaign commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Coke bottle. Some are included in The Coca-Cola Bottle: An American Icon at 100, an exhibit at the High Museum in Atlanta, a traveling Coca-Cola Bottle Art Tour, and several Coca-Cola licensing partnerships. Others, including “Hands”, are featured in Kiss the Past Hello, a limited-edition book produced by Assouline and designed by Coca-Cola Design Director Deklah Polansky.

Fast-forward a few months, to February 2014. The company’s Creative Excellence team organised a two-week “hot house” in Paris to flesh out ideas for the aforementioned #CokeBottle100 campaign. During the hands-on sessions, Coke teams briefed invited agency partners and challenged them to return with initial creative ideas within 24 to 48 hours. The team shared Farrell’s “Hands” idea with Ogilvy & Mather Paris and challenged the team to consider how it could represent a brand perspective through human connection.

“Ogilvy did a great job of accepting the challenge and bringing a broad range of emotional and creative storytelling to life by exploring everything the iconic Coke bottle represents, and how it brings people together,” said David Campbell, global content director. They experimented with a series of photographic interpretations of the two hands – some sobering, some more playful.

Guido Rosales, integrated marketing director for Coca-Cola Europe, was inspired by the team’s fresh point of view. “They connected the bottle with our core brand values of inclusion and optimism,” he said. “They used hands from different people representing various socioeconomic levels, races, religions and nationalities – all connected by Coca-Cola. That grabbed my attention because it was simple, authentic and unique to our brand.”

In the months that followed, Coca-Cola Europe worked with Ogilvy Paris and renowned photographer David LaChapelle to take the idea from concept to campaign, starting with a 30-second online film titled “Together.”

“David is an artist who advocates for diversity in his work, and who has a special sensitivity to portraying universalism, so we knew he was the right person to bring the authenticity we needed to this project,” Rosales said.

The Coca-Cola team in Germany took the “Together” concept even further, creating a series of powerful print and outdoor ads that sparked a global social media buzz and later won a gold Cannes Lion in June. “They saw the potential of the idea and were brave to launch it in more traditional channels,” Rosales said.

Farrell applauded Ogilvy and Coca-Cola Europe for "nurturing the initial idea into something really beautiful. “They added some serious firepower from an art direction and photography standpoint, which took it to an extrinsic and more emotional space,” he said.

Javier Sanchez Lamelas, group marketing director, Coca-Cola Europe, added, “This is a great example of individual creative works coming together and taking on a new life through the power of the Coca-Cola global marketing system – from a simple sketch to the winner’s circle at the world’s largest celebration of creativity. It represents our networked approach, engaging our global talent to collectively create world-class campaigns.”