It’s a widely known fact that Coke started out with coca—the extract of cocaine—as a key ingredient, along with the kola nut. Hence its name: Coca-Cola. While consumers today drink Coke “just for the taste of it,” back when it was first introduced in 1885, it was marketed as a health tonic certain to cure a range of ills, including headaches, low sex drive and addiction. Yup, addiction. Because, how bad could a little cocaine in your drink be? (Cocaine was removed from the soda in 1903.)
While Coke’s marketing has improved vastly in the last 130 years, its brand has surprisingly stayed nearly the same, except for a brief departure from the original from 1890-1891.
The original Coca-Cola name, written in an adapted Spencerian script popular at the time, was created by founder John Pemberton’s bookkeeper, Frank Robinson, who also devised the change from “kola” to “cola” in the brand’s name. (He astutely thought that the two c’s in Coca-Cola looked better than Coca-Kola). The trademarked Coca-Cola name remained virtually unchanged—except for the addition of trademarks and the elongating of the flourishes on the C’s—until the late 1950s.
The script remained nearly the same on the logo going into the turbulent 1960s, but it now included what was known as a “fishtail” or Arciform shape in red around it. Perhaps the biggest change to Coca-Cola’s logo came in 1969, when the famous white wave was introduced. The logo also became square-shaped (Arden Square) and featured “Enjoy” above the brand name.
Interestingly, 1969 was also the year that Coca-Cola and its advertising agency, McCann-Erickson, ended their “Things Go Better with Coke” ad campaign in favor of the slogan “It’s the Real Thing.” If you’re a child of the ’70s, like I am, you’ll remember the ad that accompanied this campaign. The song and commercial, recorded by music group New Seekers, was the famous “I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke,” and the ad became one of the most-beloved of all time.
Coca-Cola has always had savvy marketing, even from the company’s start in the 1880s, when advertising played a huge role in the soft drink’s growing popularity. Though the logo never had any major overhaul, the brand employed many different slogans over the years, including “Coke Adds Life!”, “Official Soft Drink of Summer” and “Always Coca-Cola.”
Most recently, we’ve seen the success of Coca-Cola’s “Share a Coke” campaign, which features one of 1,000 popular first names in place of the Coca-Cola logo on 20-ounce bottles of Coke, Diet Coke and Coke Zero. My son doesn’t even drink soda and I still felt compelled to buy one with his name on it when we were having lunch one day, just to take a photo of him with it and post it on Instagram.
How brilliant is a marketing strategy that influences you to buy a product whether you intend to use it or not, and then gets you to help market the item to your friends and social network?! Pretty darn brilliant. And that’s how you grow a brand for more than a century: Be distinctive and appeal to human compulsion and emotion.