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"Coca-Cola:" The Inside Story
Instantly recognizable anywhere...CokeClick thumbnail to view full-size
124 years and still counting
“Coca-Cola even invented Santa as we know him today, gowned in red. Before Coke made him over in their image, he wore green!!
The idolatry that greets this over-sweet, over-fizzy, and now over-priced beverage, or soda as it is called in the USA, has always left this observer puzzled. The only appeal it had when I lived in sweltering California and Mexico was that is was always served ice-cold and was passable if a Bohemia beer or fresh fruit juice wasn’t available. But who the heck cares what this miserable old pen-pusher thinks, Coco-Cola, or Coke, represents the cleverest and most successful creation and promotion to a mega-brand of any product in the world’s history. Nothing else even comes close, and today Coke , and Diet Coke, as well as all the other associated drinks and products, is consumed by the millions of gallons daily by its slavish devotees.
Coca-Cola is older than us, our parents, grandparents and perhaps their parents as well having been invented - concocted might be a better word, way back in 1886.
Coca-Cola was “Delicious and Refreshing,” when it first appeared in the United States; it became the “Pause That Refreshes” in 1929. Ad agencies have ever competed for the Coke account and they competed amongst themselves to produce a catchy phrase to use on all the company ads., the trucks, the products themselves and even, today, on their own brand of promotional clothing. Coke was the “Real Thing” in 1942 (this revived later in 1969). For many years, “The Pause That Refreshes,“ meant just one thing on billboards and in magazine plates millions upon millions of times. By 1976 the soda “Adds Life” and to spite the inroads being made by Dr. Pepper, Pepsi and others, “Coke is It!” was the mantra in 1982.
How trite many will say, but the secret should be obvious, it’s not the product but the message that sells. Coke was unique once (and some of its ingredients are still a secret) but it still stays ahead of the competition today with the original recipe and one other as well as about 20 other associated products (among which is Dr Pepper which Coke finally got tired off and bought-out).
Forbes magazine once wrote of another well known brand, Hallmark Cards, that “(these mega promotions) create a necessity out of a superfluity!” Not only denigrating the cards, but teaching the masses a new word which I still can’t pronounce! This is a syndrome that has caught on with everything from cosmetics to un-needed rubbish for the home.
You have to wonder it is wasn’t sheer luck that steered the fledgling soft drink through the early years. And the fact there was nothing like it available.
John Styth Pemberton, some sort of a chemist, first made the libation available on May 8th., 1886, in his Atlanta soda fountain of the Eagle Drug and Chemical Company, after a history of failure in many projects, some rather questionable. It contained some sort of reduced wine with added sugar and the extracts of the kola nut. It was made “special” by the addition of the mysterious ingredients which are still a tightly held secret. In fact, it is rumored that only two people living hold the names of this elixir and they may not go on an air flight at the same time!
Many believe that up until the beginning of the last century Coke did, indeed, contain cocaine. To squash any further investigation, the company began treating the coca leaves with a solvent to remove any traces of the drug. Not that cocaine was the feared and banned substance it is today as it was recommended for assorted properties, and, indeed, for therapy by luminaries such as Freud - not to mention Sherlock Holmes who was inclined to take some to aid his acute mental crime-solving processes from 1887!
Pemberton, who apparently kept accurate records, made just $46 the first year from sales of 25 gallons of syrup; he never saw much result from his invention and died in 1988.
Asa G Candler acquired his business and began to sell the drink while still honoring Permberton’s supposed secret of all its contents. He identified some of the ingredients as “Merchandise 7X. This is described on today’s cans as “natural flavorings.” Does the extract of the Coca plant come to mind? Shhhhh! Nobody knows except the inner circle and if they told you they’d have to kill you!
By 1892, sales had risen astronomically due to Candler’s clever hints that the “delicious drink” also contained some curative powers. He incorporated the company and spent $12,000 - a huge amount back then - on advertising the first year. He had taken Lever’s conclusions in Britain, when he first branded soap “Sunlight,” that to sell a more or less generic product - a soft drink- one needed to create an image far greater than a mere thirst-quencher. By the mid 1890’s Candler claimed that Coke was consumed in every state and territory of the United States, by Jiminy!
It took a long time for Coke to escape the attentions of the soda-jerk and emerge on the shelves as a bottled drink: all the way up to 1928 in fact before it became common practice for independent soda fountain operators to bottle the soda. This was the start of this rather quaint southern product becoming a world-wide phenomena. The traditional bottle shape was developed and became instantly recognized everywhere. The drink became available in villages all over the planet, along with the brand name.
The tale goes that a Mexican president was traveling in a rural district when he espied a peon under a big hat taking no notice of him and his large entourage. “Hey, hombre,” he said. “Why don’t you show some respect, don’t you know who I am?” “No, senor,” replied the peon lazily. “What do you mean, you don’t know,” snarled the President, “You can see my name all over the state.” :Oh, si,” smiled the peon, “You moos’ be Presidente Coca-Cola!?”
Coke ads have associated Coke with sex, such as in The “Yes” girl, admired by millions, from just after WW2 and by featuring top cine stars, such a Claudette Colbert, in the 1930’s: with the Beatles in 1963 as a symbol of youth culture in the Swinging Sixties Coke, like many food and beverage ads to follow, hinted on the consumers good taste in serving the drink at soirees and dinner parties. An unforgettable Time Magazine cover in the 1950’s showed a sun sized Coke “man” feeding the drink to a cartoon representation of the Earth.
As well as its detractors, Coke has had scores of imitators over the years, enough, in fact, to keep a whole building full of lawyers busy handling the hundreds of law suits to protect the brand and its trade mark packaging and logos - which now include nearly 100 products.
Coke’s marketing policy has been clear from the start, one of being “universally affordable, universally available and universally acceptable.” Studying this meteoric rise over the last 50 years, one can be forgiven for thinking the inclusion of “universal” was no mistake. This little planet is starting to get very small for Coke’s ambitions. Will we one day soon see pictures of little green men with the ubiquitous coke bottle in hand?…