When you’re craving a nice cold Coke on a hot summer’s day, the question “Is Pepsi ok?” can be soda pressing. Ok, that’s an old pun, but it’s not as old as Coke itself. Created 134 years ago, Coca Cola is undoubtedly the world’s most recognizable soft drink brand. It’s now an iconic name that has dominated the industry for most of the 20th century and generates billions in revenue. The Coca Cola Company now owns hundreds of brands and has built an unmatched top-of-mind awareness in the beverages space. Here are a dozen fizzy facts you probably never knew about this refreshing drink.
1. Coke was invented by a pharmacist
The creator of Coca Cola, John Stith Pemberton, was an American Civil War veteran who suffered a severe chest injury during his time as a Confederate soldier. After becoming addicted to morphine, he used his medical training to experiment with morphine-free painkillers, finally creating a medicinal wine that he named Pemberton’s French Wine Coca. When alcohol was banned in his county, he had to come up with a non-alcoholic alternative, which is when he developed the original recipe for Coca Cola. When he accidentally mixed the syrup with carbonated water, he decided it would sell better as a fountain drink instead of a medicine. The first drinks were served in 1886 at his drug store, Jacob’s Pharmacy in Atlanta, Georgia.
2. Coca Cola got its logo for free
While brands today shell out big bucks to develop their visual identity, the Coca Cola logo was created in house by the creators bookkeeper. Frank Mason Robinson not only helped Dr. Pemberton come up with the name Coca Cola, he wrote the name in the flowing Spencerian script which was popular at the time. While the logo has experienced several iterations over the decades, it still remains true to Robinson’s original design and is one of the most recognizable logos in the world today. Robinson also created the first advertisements and slogans for the new soda fountain drink, and would eventually serve as the treasurer and secretary of the Coca Cola Company.
3. It was named after 2 key ingredients: a leaf and a nut
Though Dr. Pemberton was responsible for creating the iconic drink, the Coca Cola name was the brainchild of his bookkeeper Frank Robinson. The original formula used coca leaves and kola nuts as the main ingredients, and Robinson claimed to have chosen the name because “because it was euphonious, and on account of my familiarity with such names as ‘S.S.S; and ‘B.B.B'”. While the use of alliterations for brand names wasn’t exactly a new concept, it turned out to be a smart move and Robinson’s recognition of consumer market preferences certainly paid off.
4. The shape of the Coca-Cola bottle is patterned after a cocoa seed pod
Coke was initially a soda fountain drink, and as its popularity grew it soon became available in bottled form. The early bottles were simple straight-sided ones made of brown or clear glass. In 1915, the company legal counsel Harold Hirsch wanted the bottle to be distinct from competitors who aped the logo colors and design. He wanted “a bottle which a person could recognize even if they felt it in the dark, and so shaped that, even if broken, a person could tell at a glance what it was.” Bottle designer Earl R. Dean sought inspiration from the ingredients, finally landing on a picture of a gourd-shaped cocoa pod that persuaded the contoured look. The prototype bottle was too wide in the middle to be mass produced, a problem resolved by equalizing the diameter of the middle with the base of the bottle. The Coke bottle is now as recognizable as the logo itself.
5. Coke originally contained cocaine
In the beginning, two of the key ingredients were coca leaves and kola nuts. While the kola nut was the source of caffeine, the coca leaves were responsible for adding approximately nine milligrams of cocaine per glass. As a result, people began referring to the drink as “dope” and to snack carts as “dope wagons”. By 1903, cocaine was entirely removed from the beverage by using “spent” coca leaves from which cocaine had already been extracted, and not fresh ones. Coca Cola tried to compensate by increasing the amount of caffeine, but was forced to reduce the caffeine content in 1911 after a federal suit by the US government.
6. Santa’s red and white colours were popularized by Coke
Santa Claus, also called Father Christmas and Kris Kringle, was based on Saint Nicolas, a Greek Christian bishop who lived in modern day Turkey. While the earliest depictions featured him in religious robes, later images showed him in a variety of colours including red, green blue and brown. Santa often smoked a pipe, and some attributed his rosy cheeks to a fondness for alcohol, but that changed in the 1920s thanks to Christmas ad campaigns by Coca Cola. An American illustrator, Haddon Sundblom, was commissioned by the company to create a wholesome, friendly Santa that delivered toys to children. The result of this successful campaign is the modern image of Santa Claus that is now a household name.
7. Coca-Cola first sponsored the Olympic Games in 1928
The 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam were incredibly significant in many ways. They were the first to allow women to compete, and also introduced the iconic blue “P” parking sign which is now the international traffic sign for parking. They were also the first Olympics to be sponsored by Coca Cola, making it the longest running sponsor of the global sporting event. The beverage was first introduced to the Dutch consumers with 1,000 crates shipped there for the occasion. Coke was sold from a now famous branded kiosk, a replica of which can be seen at the “1928 Room” exhibit in the Olympic Stadium in Amsterdam.
8. Coca-Cola made “White Coke” for Russia during World War II
US Army General Dwight D. Eisenhower was a fan of Coke and ensured that American soldiers were well supplied with the refreshing soda on the front lines. He also introduced the drink to Soviet Marshal Zhukov who soon became fond of the cola. However, Coca Cola represented American imperialism and capitalism, and the Russian general asked for it to be made such that it resembled vodka, a request that went all the way to President Truman. Coke was made colourless and packaged in clear glass bottles with white caps that featured a red star instead of the logo, and special provisions were made for the drink to be shipped to the Soviet occupation zone. Unfortunately, Zhukov’s white Coke ended with him as he fell out of favour with the Soviet leadership, and ordinary Russians would only be introduced to Coca Cola officially in 1985.
9. The brand for sold just 3 years after it was created for only $1,750
The inventor of Coke wouldn’t live to see the massive success of his creation. Soon after inventing the beverage, John Pemberton fell ill and verged on bankruptcy due to his expensive morphine addiction. As a result, he began selling the rights of the Coca Cola formula to business partners, but retained a share to pass on to his son. Foretelling it’s rise, Dr. Pemberton believed that his invention “some day will be a national drink”. Atlanta pharmacist and businessman Asa Griggs Candler used his rights to the receipt to sell the drink under the names “Yum Yum” and “Koke”, names which never caught on. By 1888 he was able to purchase the rest of the patent for $1,750, a sum that would be worth approximately $50,000 today. Candler would soon buy out the other right’s holders and become the sole proprietor of Coca-Cola.
10. Fanta was created by Coca Cola for Germany in WW2
The Second World War saw the United States and Germany on opposite sides of the conflict, resulting in economic sanctions and trade embargoes. Coca-Cola Deutschland (Coca-Cola GmbH) was unable to import the Coca-Cola syrup needed to manufacture the drink. In order to keep production going, the plant head Max Keith created a fruit flavored drink out of apple cider pressing leftovers, whey and beet sugar. The name was suggested by salesman Joe Knipp during an employee contest in which Keith told staff to “let their fantasies run wild”. Though millions of cases were sold in Germany and Holland, the company discontinued production once the war ended, only to relaunch it again in 1955 to compete with new Pepsi products. The orange flavour which symbolizes the brand today was first made in Naples, Italy in 1955, and Fanta is now available in over 90 flavours worldwide.
11. Coca-Cola has over 3,900 different beverages
The Coca Cola Company is the largest beverage company in the world today, with 21 brands worth over a billion dollars and over 3,900 different drink options that account for 1.9 billion servings across more than 200 countries globally. Starting with the original Coca Cola drink, the company list of beverages includes names like Fanta, Sprite, Diet Coke, Coca-Cola Zero, Minute Maid, Powerade, Dasani and many more. Coca Cola itself includes flavours like Cherry, Vanilla, Twisted Lime, Ginger Lime, and Rasberry. There are also many flavours unique to particular countries and regions, such as Coca Cola Orange in Japan, Turkey and Brazil, Coca-Cola Light Sango in France, and Coca Cola Apple in Japan. In fact there are so many that it would take you more than 10 years to try them all if you drank one beverage a day.
12. Coke spends over $4 billion on advertising annually
Coca Cola has always been intensely brand focused, starting from the name and bottle design to it’s brand image and consumer perception. The company spends over $4 billion on advertising every year, even more than brands like Nike and Apple, justified by it’s $60 billion estimated brand value and over $30 billion in revenue. The jingle from one of the most memorable television ads from 1971, “I’d like to buy the world a Coke”, was so popular that it inspired the hit pop single “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing”. Coke slogans have also become incredibly well known, including “Sign of Good Taste”, “It’s the Real Thing”, “Always Coca-Cola”, and “Coca-Cola. Enjoy”. Coke’s marketing spends include sponsorships of global sports and entertainment brands like the Olympics, American Idol, NASCAR, NBA, and the FIFA World Cup.
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