1. The brand is bigger than the individual
No one person supersedes the Coca-Cola brand. There have been multiple marketing directors, brand managers and country managers across the globe for the brand over the years. When each takes up the job, they do not fall into the trap of looking to stamp their authority by changing the brand, its communication or overall message and tonality. These are set in stone and have not changed for many a year.
2. Coca-Cola knows what it stands for
They don't change this because it resonates as a human truth and, as long as it continues to resonate, there is no reason to change. Pio Schunker, Head of Integrated Marketing Communications, highlights the guiding principle they abide by: "Coke brings Joy".
It's simple and clear, but is also defined a little further by always ensuring that any communication is always "filtered through the brand's core values of happiness, refreshment, optimism, fun, simple moments of pleasure, authenticity, coming together and uplift." These values are the pillars upon which the brand is built and they are not negotiable.
3. Clearly expressing these values through the consistent use of core brand assets built up over time
Coca-Cola is without a doubt the finest exponent of understanding what its core assets are and building these through all communication points. The red colour is consistent and is clearly linked to happiness and refreshment - it's not a randomly chosen colour. In 1931, the brand took a huge leap and popularised Santa Claus with the Coca-Cola red colour as a pure embodiment of fun, coming together and uplift. This is an incredibly bold move that worked, but it was very much a calculated decision, which would have been filtered through whether or not Santa Claus embodied the Coca-Cola brand values.
The bottle shape, sponsorship of the Olympics (started in 1928) and happiness factory are all products of understanding the brand values and identifying new and engaging ways to express the simple statement, "Coke brings joy". The Coca-Cola logo has famously hardly changed since its inception as they rely on the deliberate building of other brand assets to carry its message.
Coca-Cola possesses one of the most recognised brand designs in history. It's not only the trademark design of that white typeface on that particular shade of red that makes it so iconic, but also the equally famous bottle.
Now almost over 120 years old and selling in more than 200 countries, the brand is regarded as the biggest in the world and has come top of an Interbrand poll of all global brands for the fourth time in a row. It is now estimated that Coca-Cola's brand is worth a whopping $67.5bn (£39bn).
Invented in 1886 by John Pemberton, the drink started life as Pemberton's French Wine Coca. But in response to local prohibition laws, a non-alcoholic version developed and a new name was created by Pemberton's partner Frank Mason Robinson.
Robinson had the prescience to see that Coca- Cola's two C's would stand out in any ad campaign and it was him, too, who chose the logo's distinctive cursive script. The typeface used, known as Spencerian script, was developed in the mid 19th century and was the dominant form of formal handwriting in the United States during that period.
The logo's fairly casual beginnings are very much at odds with the rumours that have since surrounded it. One concerns the supposedly anti-Islamic phrase that appears in Arabic when the logo is reversed, while another suggests that when viewed on its side the logo depicts a man snorting cocaine. Widely debunked though these rumours are, the power of the brand makes it an easy target for such mythology.
Cocaine, though present in trace amounts in early patent medicines including Coca-Cola, was drunk in the 1880s and not imbibed as a powder, so the image would not make sense even if Robinson had attempted to incorporate it. The anti-Islamic myth, however, was so pervasive and potentially damaging that in 2000 Egypt's Grand Mufti, the country's most senior religious authority, ruled in an official statement that the trademark did not injure Islam or Muslims directly or indirectly, and in fact such rumours would sorely impact on the livelihoods of the thousands of Egyptians employed by the company.
The whole package
Possibly as famous as the logo's typeface is the bottle, itself a registered trademark. Initially there was no set branding, but in response to a flood of imitations, a distinctive bottle was needed to make the product stand out. The original design brief stated that the bottle should be recognisable even by its component pieces if broken, and that its shape should be easily recognisable by touch in the dark or even when submerged in a bucket of ice.
As a result, a bottle design competition was launched in 1915 and won by Earl R Dean of the Root Glass Company in Indiana. The designers were inspired by the cocoa bean and transplanted its vertical grooves to the glass.
Georgia Green glass was used to create the bottle's trademark curves and the green-tinted contoured bottle was embossed with the Coca-Cola script. After several patent wrangles, the bottle's trademark status was eventually awarded in 1960.
But it is the ubiquity of Coca-Cola that made the design so recognisable across the US. By 1895 the drink was sold in every territory in the United States. So when the company ramped up its branding strategies during the thirties and forties, each component of the Coca-Cola design quickly developed into the superbrand we know today.
The brand's colour, the now familiar Coca-Cola red, remains a highly important component of this design classic. White cursive text sat on a bright red background has since been used for almost all of Coca-Cola's rival brands (with the notable exception of Pepsi), and recently Quibla Cola and Mecca Cola, drinks targeted primarily at Muslim consumers as an alternative to the US-based Coca-Cola, have traded on the brand image for more political reasons.
Did Coke inspire Santa?
Perhaps one of the most enduring legends of the power of the brand has been the suggestion that the modern version of Santa Claus was a by-product of Coca-Cola's advertising. However, depictions of a red-suited and white-bearded Father Christmas have been evident in the UK since the 17th century. In the US, too, the likes of American Civil War artist Thomas Nast drew the figure from the mid-1800s, with no standardisation of colour, features or stature.
Coca-Cola first featured Santa Claus in its advertisements in the twenties, which were drawn in a style faithful to the Germanic Nast Santa. It wasn't until the thirties, when the artist Haddon Sundblom took over illustration duties at Coca-Cola, that the marketing began to make any sort of impact. Happily for Coca-Cola, Santa's red and white colour combination went well with its own logo and Sundblom's highly popular Santa merrily toasted contoured green bottles for 35 years thereafter.
"The curvy script, roll-off-the-tongue name, bright red colouring and iconic bottle shape have made Coca-Cola the most famous brand on the planet," says James Wheatley, creative producer at Swamp. "It's certainly the most easily recognised logo ever, as proved by the 2000 billboard campaign, which featured close cropped sections of the logo and no other branding at all. A flash of red and a curved white line proved enough to get people thinking about their favourite fizzy pop."
“A brand is a promise. A good brand is a promise kept.”
"Coca-Cola is more than just a drink. It is an idea, it’s a vision, a feeling. It is about great connections and shared experiences. It is one of the truly common threads that bonds the world together."
Coca-Cola ads depict human experience in two primary ways. First, long before global branding was the trend it is today, Coca-Cola was embracing diversity. This can be clearly seen in its long-running “I’d like to buy the world a Coke” series of ads, depicting people from all over the globe joining together in Coke and song.
Further, Coca-Cola has long been available in one form or another in countries all across the world and it’s even rumored to be the most recognizable brand, logo and even word on the planet (the latter with the possible exception of “ok”).
When Coca-Cola ads aren’t targeting worldwide diversity, they still possess a strong sense of community and overcoming differences and hardship through universal similarities such as a love for Coke. Click on the image below to see a recent Simpson’s-themed Coca-Cola commercial using this tactic.
The second way that Coke has leveraged the human experience throughout the years is through a strong emphasis on families. Pepsi always stayed aimed right at children but Coke seems to know that Mom does the shopping and to get her you have to use an emotional appeal that makes Coca-Cola not only something that the whole family desires, but something that is literally an integral part of the family’s life experiences.
This occurs all over Coca-Cola’s advertising throughout the years but is never more evident than in Coke’s Christmas ads. Whether its an endearing scene of a father and son watching the Santa Coke truck go by or a family of polar bears consistently being brought together by Coke, the Christmas ads are aimed right at the hearts of American consumers.
Coca-Cola is as American as Thanksgiving day. It has been around since 1886 and has since become impressively tied in with the American identity through its massive growth and worldwide adoration.
Though many will tell you that the Coca-Cola logo has been the same since day one, it has in fact undergone a few major overhauls. In fact, the original method of writing out the brand name was much less ornate than the script we now know:
In the same article as the Pepsi logo evolution shown above, BoredPanda.com also published a Coca-Cola logo evolution. As you can see, the Coca-Cola script (which is simply a form of Spencerian Script) began life quite thin and irregular, then became much thicker and didn’t thin again out to the refined version we’re now familiar with until around the 1940s. Notice that it wasn’t until the 60s that the ribbon below the letters made its way onto the scene and its presence has since been a little inconsistent.
It’s interesting to note that Coke also followed the same evolutionary path that we saw from Pepsi, though to a less extreme degree. By 1987 a hint of shading had made its way into the Coca-Cola swoosh and by the mid 90s we had gradients, gloss and water droplets, sound familiar? This was of course followed by a period of dramatic simplification in the early 2000s which was taken even further in 2009.
It’s important to remember that alongside the logo, Coca-Cola has always had an important piece of brand history in its contour bottle, which despite taking many shapes early on eventually found stability and became a major icon for the company that persists even to today.
By now you can probably see that one of the main themes of this article is to showcase the major design trends in the past twenty years, which are clearly represented in the brand evolutions of both Coca-Cola and Pepsi.
In the early 2000s, Coke underwent a process very similar to Pepsi’s rebranding project that we saw above. Like Pepsi, Coca-Cola would undertake a branding project that would essentially undo the clutter that had made its way into the brand identity and strip it down to a meaningful and simplified version.
In a case study released by San Francisco design firm Turner Duckworth, the problem with Coke was clearly portrayed:
The Turner Duckworth team responded to this problem in a drastically different way than the Arnell Group handled the Pepsi refresh (for starters, their logic actually made sense and wasn’t a bunch of circles). Arnell did in fact simplify the Pepsi brand, but in the process they redefined it into something that it has never been before. On the surface, this sounds great but as we saw, the execution felt more like a gunshot to the heart of the brand.
Turner Duckworth on the other hand, didn’t attempt to redefine the most valuable brand on the planet, they simply brought it back to its roots. The result was a strengthening of the core features of the logo and product imagery.
As a designer, you might laugh at the idea that someone could get paid to produce such a simple result. However, they didn’t stop there. Turner Duckworth realized that the heart of the brand didn’t just lie in the logo itself but something physical that we had all experienced in a very real way over the years: the coke bottle.
This idea of leveraging something physical is very important. We’ve all had Coca-Cola from a can, paper cup and plastic bottle before, but there’s something magically nostalgic about that old glass bottle. Not only did they apply their newly simplified look to the glass Coke bottle, they made the silhouette of that bottle the new brand hero and began using it in new and innovative ways. Below we can see the awesome Coca-Cola aluminum can bottles and the application of the Coke bottle silhouette onto other representations of the Coke brand such as paper cups and door signs.