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  • Writer's pictureRich Honiball

Today in Brand History: The World of Coca Cola Makes An Iconic Move

The evolution of Coca Cola bottles
The evolution of Coca Cola bottles (photo credit:
Coca Cola launches in 1886
Coca Cola launches in 1886 (photo credit:

The Birth of an Icon: Coca-Cola's Humble Beginnings

In the late 19th century, a concoction of caramel-colored syrup and carbonated water was introduced to the world. This creation, known as Coca-Cola, was the brainchild of Dr. John Stith Pemberton, a pharmacist from Atlanta, Georgia, who, in 1886, sought to invent a new medicinal tonic. Pemberton's original formula, intended to cure various ailments, was first sold at Jacob's Pharmacy in Atlanta. The drink's unique taste quickly caught the public's attention, marking the beginning of Coca-Cola's journey to becoming one of the most recognized brands globally.

Dr. Pemberton, however, soon found himself in a position where he needed to sell his brand sooner than he might have initially anticipated. In 1888, due to health problems and financial difficulties exacerbated by his morphine addiction, Pemberton began to seek buyers for the formula and rights to manufacture Coca-Cola. The brand and formula went through several hands in its early years, but the most significant transaction was with Asa Griggs Candler, an Atlanta businessman and pharmacist who saw the potential in Pemberton's invention.

Candler purchased the majority of the rights to Coca-Cola in a series of transactions between 1888 and 1891, with the final acquisition costing him a total of $2,300. Pemberton died in August 1888, shortly after beginning to sell his stake in Coca-Cola. Candler's entrepreneurial spirit and marketing genius were instrumental in transitioning Coca-Cola from a medicinal elixir to a mainstream soft drink. Under Candler's leadership, Coca-Cola was incorporated in 1892 as the Coca-Cola Company, and he embarked on an aggressive marketing and distribution campaign that laid the groundwork for the brand's global recognition and success.

Coca Cola introduces the iconic shaped bottle in 1915
Coca Cola introduces the iconic shaped bottle in 1915 (photo credit:

Bottling the Magic: Coca-Cola Takes on New Form

Benjamin Thomas and Joseph Whitehead's decision to bottle Coca-Cola was driven by a visionary understanding of market potential and consumer convenience. Before their intervention, Coca-Cola was primarily sold in soda fountains, limiting its availability to establishments equipped with these machines. Thomas and Whitehead recognized the opportunity to expand Coca-Cola's market by making it available for consumption beyond the soda fountain, essentially anywhere and anytime. This foresight into consumer behavior anticipated the modern demand for convenience and portability in food and beverage consumption.

The glass bottle was chosen as the material for bottling because of the technology and preferences of the time. Glass was the dominant material for liquid storage due to its non-reactive nature, ensuring that the drink's taste remained unaltered. Additionally, glass bottles could be easily sealed to preserve carbonation, an essential aspect of Coca-Cola's appeal. In 1899, Thomas and Whitehead secured exclusive rights to bottle and sell Coca-Cola through a contract with Asa Griggs Candler, who was initially skeptical about the bottling venture. This agreement granted them nearly universal rights to bottle Coca-Cola for a token fee of one dollar, a deal that did not include a share of profits for Candler, illustrating his underestimation of the bottling business's potential.

The iconic curved bottle of Coca-Cola, introduced in 1915, was designed by the Root Glass Company of Terre Haute, Indiana. This design was the result of a competition initiated by the Coca-Cola Company to create a distinctive bottle that could be recognized by touch alone and in the dark to combat imitation by competitors. The Root Glass Company's design team, led by Earl R. Dean, drew inspiration from the cocoa pod, incorporating its ribs and curves into the bottle's shape. This unique design not only succeeded in distinguishing Coca-Cola from its imitators but also became one of the most recognized symbols of the brand worldwide. The contour bottle underscored Coca-Cola's commitment to brand identity and has remained an enduring symbol of the company's heritage and innovation.

"Coca Cola goes along" with our troops during World War II
"Coca Cola goes along" with our troops during World War II (photo credit:

A Symbol of Unity and Hope: Coca-Cola During Wartime

Coca-Cola's role during World War II exemplifies how a brand can transcend its commercial origins to become a beacon of hope and unity. The company's pledge to keep Coca-Cola within reach of every American serviceman for just five cents - a bold move by then-president Robert W. Woodruff - illustrated an unwavering commitment to support the troops and provide a semblance of comfort during tumultuous times. This initiative necessitated the creation of portable bottling plants, dubbed "Technical Observer's Posts," which were dispatched to various theaters of war around the globe. By the end of the war, Coca-Cola had set up over 60 bottling plants near battlefronts, ensuring that servicemen could enjoy over 5 billion bottles of Coca-Cola, thus strengthening the emotional bond between the brand and its consumers.

This wartime effort laid the groundwork for Coca-Cola's global expansion in the post-war era. Soldiers returning home carried with them fond memories of the drink, creating a demand that Coca-Cola was quick to meet. This global recognition was further amplified through iconic ad campaigns that emphasized themes of unity, joy, and global togetherness. One such campaign, the 1971 "Hilltop" commercial, featured young people from around the world gathering on a hill in Italy to sing "I'd Like to Buy the World a Coke." This ad, with its message of hope and unity, became one of the most famous and beloved commercials in television history, embodying Coca-Cola's vision of fostering global harmony.

Coca-Cola's introduction into the global market was strategically executed, adapting to local cultures while maintaining the core identity of the brand. The company's ability to navigate the complexities of international expansion was demonstrated through creative marketing strategies that resonated with diverse audiences worldwide. Coca-Cola became a symbol of Americana, yet it was embraced by countries around the globe, each adopting the beverage as part of their own social fabric. This universal appeal was no accident; it was the result of carefully crafted campaigns that highlighted universal themes of joy, friendship, and refreshment.

One of Coca Cola's holiday campaigns
One of Coca Cola's holiday campaigns (photo credit:

Innovation and Evolution: Keeping the Brand Fresh

The introduction of Diet Coke in 1982 was a landmark event in Coca-Cola's history, marking the company's entry into the diet soft drink market. This move was in response to growing consumer demand for healthier beverage options and represented Coca-Cola's commitment to catering to a broader audience. Diet Coke quickly became a favorite among consumers, establishing itself as the world's top low-calorie drink and reinforcing Coca-Cola's reputation for innovation.

However, Coca-Cola's innovative journey wasn't without its challenges. In 1985, the company made a bold decision to reformulate its flagship product, introducing New Coke. This change was Coca-Cola's attempt to stay ahead in the cola wars, responding to competitive pressures and changing consumer preferences. Despite extensive market research suggesting a preference for the new taste, public reaction was overwhelmingly negative. The backlash from loyal customers was swift and vociferous, leading Coca-Cola to reintroduce the original formula as Coca-Cola Classic mere months later. This episode underscored the deep emotional connection consumers had with the brand and illustrated Coca-Cola's willingness to listen and adapt to its customers' wishes.

Coca-Cola's innovation extended beyond product reformulation. The company embraced new packaging technologies and designs to enhance convenience and sustainability. In the 1990s, Coca-Cola introduced the recyclable PET plastic bottle, a significant step towards reducing the environmental impact of its packaging. The company also experimented with various bottle shapes and sizes to cater to different consumption occasions and preferences, further solidifying its presence in consumers' lives.

Coca Cola is credited with the first use of a coupon in 1887
Coca Cola is credited with the first use of a coupon in 1887 (photo credit:

Did You Know?

Coca-Cola's Secret Formula: The recipe for Coca-Cola's syrup is one of the most closely guarded secrets in the world of business. It is stored in a high-security vault in Atlanta. Only a few employees know the formula, and they are said not to travel together.

The First Coupon Ever: Coca-Cola is credited with creating the first coupon in history. In 1887, coupons for a free glass of Coca-Cola were distributed to encourage people to try the beverage. This marketing strategy significantly boosted the drink's popularity.

Coca-Cola in Space: In 1985, Coca-Cola became the first soft drink consumed in space. The company developed a special can to test the Space Shuttle Challenger's packaging and dispensing systems for zero gravity.

Coca-Cola's Contribution to Santa Claus's Image: Coca-Cola played a significant role in shaping the modern image of Santa Claus. In the 1930s, holiday advertisements by the company featured St. Nick as a jolly, plump man in a red suit, which has since become his universally recognized depiction.

The Wide Reach of Coca-Cola: Coca-Cola is available in over 200 countries. Interestingly, there are only two countries where Coca-Cola officially does not sell its products: Cuba and North Korea, due to trade restrictions.


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