History and Modernization
Coca-Cola was invented by John Pemberton in the mid-1880s. The carbonated soft drink, like many early concoctions, was a patent medicine sold over the counter to relieve pain and help people stop using morphine. The coca leaves and kola nuts used in the drink suggested the name. The recipe has since become a trade secret.
Coca-Cola first sold for 5 cents on May 8, 1886 at Jacob’s Pharmacy in Atlanta, Georgia, before the drink was diluted with water. The weaker version was named Pemberton’s French Wine Coca. From the mid-1890s until 1929, Coca-Cola had varying amounts of cocaine in it. Reports of consumers hallucinating caused the company to substitute the coca leaf for the cocaine leaf.
Pemberton sold small portions of his company to a few minor investors before he sold the controlling interest prior to his death in 1888 to Asa G. Candler, an aggressive businessman who assembled a team of like-minded investors that launched Coca-Cola to the top of the soft-drink market during the 1900s.
Coca-Cola’s distribution system has proven to be effective. Bottlers having exclusive territories receive Coca-Cola concentrate which they carbonate and package in cans, plastic containers and the original 7-ounce green-glass bottles. Then, the bottlers across the globe supply their local retailers worldwide. The Coca-Cola Company also provides a concentrate for use in the soda fountains of sports stadiums, movie theaters, restaurants and drug stores.
Other Products by the Coca-Cola Company
The company sells numerous variations of Coca-Cola, including the following.
- Diet Coke (1981)
- Diet/Coke with Lemon (2001)
- Diet/Coke with Lime (2004)
- Cherry Coke (1985)
- Diet Cherry Coke (1986)
- Diet/Vanilla Coke (2002)
- Coke Zero (2006)
Additionally, Coca-Cola makes Sprite, Fanta, Barq’s Root Beer, Schweppes Ginger Ale, Mr. Pibb, and many other flavor variations of each brand. It also acquired hundreds of soft drink companies worldwide. Interbrand, a global brand consultancy, once said that Coca-Cola was the most valuable brand on earth.
Coca-Cola devotees love its crisp, bold flavor. It was even used to improve the taste of cough syrups for children in the 1950s. Naturally, competitors came to challenge the king of soft drinks.
Pepsi Cola, made by Pepsico, was number two for many years. The company started producing the slightly sweeter cola beverage about a decade after Coca-Cola. It too has a stable of soft drinks, including 7-Up, Dr. Pepper, variations on Pepsi and Diet Pepsi, and many others. Occasionally, Pepsico has led, but Coca-Cola has been dominant for most of the 20th and 21st centuries. Currently, Coca-Cola is first, followed by Diet Coke and Pepsi.
Royal Crown has its own full line of soft drinks, and RC Cola was regionally popular but couldn’t budge Coca-Cola from the top spot. Royal Crown also had the first diet soda, Diet Rite Cola, years before Diet Coke.
Strangely enough, some of Coca-Cola’s other products challenge Coke for the top spot. Diet Coke is a firm number two worldwide, beating out Pepsi, but not anywhere near Coca-Cola. Sprite and caffeine-free, low-calorie drinks have eaten into Coke’s sales, but they’ve also found their own market.
Endorsers, Promotions and Ads
Coca-Cola has always advertised heavily, including being the first sponsor of the Olympic Games in 1928 in Amsterdam. It also distributed what is thought to be the first product coupon ever that same year — a ticket for a free glass of Coca-Cola at the local drug store.
Coca-Cola has a long history of enlisting celebrity endorsers. In 1907, it hired baseball legend Ty Cobb, the Georgia Peach, to endorse the soft drink. Cobb and the Atlanta-based company were a perfect match, and he was an endorser for decades. During that time, Cobb became friends with the son of the president of the company, and he learned about investing. He invested heavily in Coca-Cola stocks and bought three of his own bottling factories, becoming a member of the board of directors and a very wealthy man in short order.
One of Coca-Cola’s most famous ad campaigns featured a chorus on a hillside singing the song I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke. The gorgeous setting, perfect photography, tight editing and overall positive, upbeat mood of the ad, as well as the beautiful song and performance, vaulted Coca-Cola’s popularity into the stratosphere. The ad had several iterations of different lengths on different hillsides for years after the original. The New Seekers and The Hillside Singers were bands that had hit recordings of the song with a version that didn’t mention Coke.
New Coke Fiasco
Coca-Cola shocked the world in the early 1980s by announcing that Coca-Cola’s formula was changing, and the new drink would be called New Coke. People rebelled. They purchased all the Coca-Cola they could find, and it sold for inflated prices after the store shelves emptied. Most consumers didn’t like New Coke; it didn’t taste like Coca-Cola. It was sweeter, and it tasted like. . . Pepsi!
New Coke was roundly condemned. Newspaper columnists waxed poetic over their favorite caffeine-packed late-night beverage that no longer refreshed. Pepsico seized the opportunity and claimed victory in the cola wars. Coca-Cola began producing the original Coca-Cola — naming it Coca-Cola Classic — on July 10, 1985, and New Coke went out of production.
With its worldwide reach, talented publicity department and an immensely popular product line, Coca-Cola the company, as well as the drink, should be around forever. The sudden popularity of iced teas, sports drinks and bottled water has opened new markets for the company that has already proven itself over and over again. The world is thirsty, and Coca-Cola wants to quench that thirst.