On May 8, 2021, The Coca-Cola Company celebrated its 135th anniversary. With a history that spans more than a century, it is no surprise that the brand has seen many changes since it first was founded. From selling nine drinks a day at Jacobs' Pharmacy in Atlanta, Georgia to selling more than 1.9 billion beverages in more than 200 countries around the world daily, here is how the Coca-Cola Company has changed over the years and how the evolution has affected its business.

Key Takeaways

  • The Coca-Cola Company was founded in 1886 in Atlanta, Georgia. Since then, the company now sells more than 1.9 billion beverages in more than 200 countries around the world daily.
  • When the company first started in 1886, it used coupons for free drinks to raise interest in the product, advertising on painted wall signs, napkins, and clocks.
  • By 1911, the company's advertising budget had skyrocketed to more than $1 million.
  • In 2020, Coca-Cola was ranked sixth as the world's most valuable brand according to Forbes.
  • For more than a century, Coca-Cola has managed to retain its popularity and keep up with the times while still remaining entrenched in nostalgia.

Advertising Strategies

Coca-Cola might be one of the best-known brands in the world today. However, that wasn't always the case. When the company first started in 1886, it used coupons for free drinks to raise interest in the product. In 1892, marketer Asa Candler finalized the purchase of Coca-Cola from inventor Dr. John Pemberton. Candler's original advertising budget was $11,000. He used items such as calendars, soda fountain urns, painted wall signs, napkins, pencils, and clocks to advertise Coca-Cola. By 1895, Coca-Cola reports that the beverage is sold and drunk in every U.S. state and territory, beginning its market saturation around the world.

1900-1950s

The first celebrity to ever endorse Coca-Cola was music hall performer Hilda Clark in 1900. Since then, numerous celebrities such as Joan Crawford, Ray Charles, The Supremes, Aretha Franklin, Arnold Palmer, and Joe Namath have attached themselves to the brand. By the beginning of the 1900s, the marketing budget for the soft drink has already multiplied ten-fold to $100,000.

Coca-Cola purchased space in national magazines for the first time in 1904. By 1911, the company's advertising budget had skyrocketed to more than $1 million. In the 1920s, Coca-Cola added outdoor billboards and radio program sponsorships into its advertising mix. The famous Coca-Cola Christmas advertising campaigns began in 1931 with illustrations of St. Nicholas drinking Coca-Cola.

1950s-1990s

The first television commercial for Coca-Cola premiered on Thanksgiving Day in 1950. By this point in time, advertising already accounts for a significant portion of the company's expenses. In 1956, McCann-Erickson, Inc. replaced the D’Arcy Advertising Company as the official ad agency. The latter had a history of more than 50 years advertising Coca-Cola, marking a shift in strategy. Sales outside the U.S. already accounted for about 33% of revenue.

By the 1960s, the company had begun to diversify its product lines, acquiring The Minute Maid Corporation and introduced Sprite in 1961. In 1971, the famous "I'd Like to Buy the World A Coke" television commercial was launched. To this day, it remains one of the most popular and successful ads for Coca-Cola.

1990s-Present

One of the most memorable Coca-Cola TV commercials was 1993's "Northern Lights," which marked the debut of the Coca-Cola polar bears. However, not all of Coca-Cola's marketing ideas have been hits. In 1985, in an effort to compete with Pepsi, the company decided to change the formula for Coke for the first time in 99 years. The new drink was called "New Coke." The reaction to the new flavor was overwhelmingly negative, and Coca-Cola went back to the original recipe in just 79 days.

Joe Tripodi, chief marketing and commercial officer for Coca-Cola, said the company had more than $4 billion for its marketing budget in 2011. The major spending paid off as Coca-Cola was named Marketer of the Year in 2011 by AdAge.

Coca-Cola Packaging Evolution

Coca-Cola was only served as a fountain drink until 1899 when Candler sold the U.S. bottling rights to Benjamin F. Thomas and Joseph B. Whitehead for $1. The Coca-Cola contour bottle went into production in 1916. The unique shape of the bottle was designed to distinguish Coca-Cola from its imitators. The 6.5-ounce contour bottle was the only packaging Coca-Cola used until 1955 when the king-sized package was introduced. Consumers had the option to purchase Coke in 10-, 12-, 16- and 26-ounce bottles in addition to the standard 6.5-ounce bottle. In 1960, Coca-Cola introduced 12-ounce steel cans to make its drinks more portable.

Coca-Cola went green in 2009 with 100% recyclable bottles made partially from plant-based materials and moved to reduce its use of new plastic by 20% across North America in 2021. In 2011, Coca-Cola's seasonal holiday packaging was met with disdain by consumers. For the first time, regular Coke was put in white cans that customers said looked similar to the silver Diet Coke cans. The white cans were supposed to stay on shelves until February 2012 but were discontinued in December 2011 in favor of the classic red cans. In October 2012, Coca-Cola announced that it would stop the production of 6.5-ounce glass bottles because they are no longer profitable.

History of the Coca-Cola Logo

The trademark Coca-Cola script logo was created in 1886 by Frank M. Robinson. A red and white graphic that represents two adjacent contour bottles, called the Dynamic Ribbon Device, was added to the logo in 1970. A shock of yellow and floating bubbles was added to the white twist in 2003 as part of the Coca-Cola Real campaign. Those enhancements were removed by 2007. For its 125th birthday, the company created a special logo that featured bubbles coming out of the contour bottle.

The Bottom Line

Coca-Cola was ranked sixth on the Forbes list of the World's Most Valuable Brands in 2020. Competitor Pepsi followed well behind at No. 36. For more than a century, Coca-Cola has managed to retain its popularity and keep up with the times while still remaining entrenched in nostalgia. Despite the competition, Coca-Cola is still one of the most successful and well-known brands in the world.