White Castle, a family-owned business since 1921, officially passed the century mark on March 10, 2021, the first fast-food hamburger chain to reach the milestone. When the iconic brand and its longest-running partner, Coca-Cola, considered innovative ways to commemorate the occasion, they turned to Bryan Moss, an artist born, raised and living in Columbus, Ohio, to design augmented reality (AR) cups for the restaurants and a large-scale mural for the home office.
It all started in the summer of 2020, with Coca-Cola eager to celebrate their partner of nearly 100 years with a truly unique and groundbreaking activation. As big as the outcome promised to be, the two brands at the outset knew they wanted to start locally. A short-list of Columbus-based visual artists quickly led to the selection of Moss, known for his lively and relatable graphic aesthetic.
“We strive to support our local communities in all respects, and this project was no exception,” says Erin Shannon, corporate relations manager at White Castle. “Bryan ‘got us’ from the very beginning, and I believe his shared passion for White Castle came through.”
Resulting from the month-long undertaking is a first in the 100-year partnership – AR packaging, which White Castle introduced earlier this month. Customers can order a large drink to receive one of three AR cups, each wrapped with the artist’s work representing an era from White Castle’s history: 1920s to 1950s, 1960s to 1990s, and 2000s to the present. The comic book style of the designs is a nod to the rise of comics in America during the early days of the brand’s history. Customers navigating to 1921.whitecastle.com on their smartphone can direct their mobile camera at the cup to watch elements come to life before their eyes.
“As kids, so many of us would sit and eat our bowls of cereal while staring at the back of the box,” Moss says. “Here, I see a 21st century version of that same experience with people eating White Castle while exploring the cup through AR. It’s just so cool!”
As a local artist with close ties to the Columbus community, Moss also saw this as an opportunity to pay it forward and get others involved. Throughout the project, he hired nearly a dozen fellow artists, designers and creatives to support different aspects. From 50-year-old professionals to 13-year-old interns, each brought an invaluable skillset and left with their contribution on a campaign of national scale.
“We started this one goal in mind – to celebrate our partners of 100 years,” says Ashley Alexander, senior customer marketing manager at The Coca-Cola Company. “Bryan elevated the project to a whole new level and exceeded every expectation.”
In addition to the AR cups available in restaurants, Moss designed and hand-applied a large mural in White Castle’s home office in Columbus. Featuring vignettes and design elements from the cups, the mural stands as a permanent fixture in the building to celebrate the history and innovation of the acclaimed brand.
“I was so humbled by how much the teams at White Castle and Coca-Cola trusted me every step of the way,” adds Moss. “A 100th birthday – this is a huge deal and I still almost can’t believe I got to be a part of it.”