Every star we see was once seemingly born out of nothing. We look at the sky and just assume they’ve always been there. We often forget the marketing efforts to make a brand stand out. Now we know that masses of gasses in outer space seek each other to form astronomical bodies with enough pressure (read gravity) to squeeze themselves until they undergo nuclear fusion reactions to brighten our day.
Coca-Cola is a star for sure. But was Coca-Cola always the refreshment that we know and love? Or did trial and error, and circumstances eventually squeeze this star into that oh so familiar and tasty form?
Dr. Pemberton created the drink in 1886 in his pharmacy in Atlanta in America in this world. It was to tackle headache and exhaustion. The mixture, inspired by the almost identical French Vin Mariani, consisted of wine and cocaine so it proved itself quite adequate in tackling these two issues. It was the perfect drink for a Thursday evening. But how did Coca-Cola transform from a Thursday drink to an everyday drink?
It was only after Southerners started acting up against alcohol consumption at the end of the 19th century when Dr. Pemberton changed the formula to a non-alcoholic one. Emphasis was laid on the second main ingredient, de kola nut. Hence the name. Coca-Cola is Cocaine Kola.
Coca-Cola’s way to success
Coca-Cola was there. Its success, however, had yet to come. How did this conglomerate, consisting of 500 brands that produce 4.000 different beverages, grow out of a small business that sold a meagre 9 drinks a day?
It was the acquisition of the formula by mister Condler in 1888 that kick-started its success; for $550 only. $550 was the price of 11.000 Coca-Cola drinks back in the day. A small price to pay. Right now, McDonalds alone sells 70 to 210 million drinks from the Coca-Cola Company every single day. France only has 68 million inhabitants, so can you image? Can you imagine buying Coca-Cola right now for $27.500?
McDonalds actually is Coca-Cola’s biggest customer and partner. It was their symbiotic relationship that helped McDonalds become the biggest fast food chain of America and therefore the world. Coca-Cola didn’t need McDonalds. McDonalds needed Coca-Cola. Coca-Cola is bigger than The Beatles.
Sounds crazy when you read that out loud, doesn’t it? Numbers, however, back it up. Coca-Cola claims to be the second most-understood term in the world; 94% of the world knows the word and 90% recognizes the red and white logo. The only word more recognized than Coca-Cola is ‘okay.’
Not strange when you consider that Coca-Cola is always within the global top 10 biggest marketing budgets with a budget of $4 billion. We know the firm got its priorities right and we know that it can throw money around with lots to spare. But how is all that money put to use?
Before examining Coca-Cola’s success, it’s wise to acknowledge that the firm doesn’t only crap gold. There were failures in the past, just like with any other successful company. Once, they changed the drink’s recipe after finding out that the taste of Pepsi was better received overall. Coca’s customers were outraged. After marketing research, it turned out that customers valued tradition over the ‘improved’ flavour and showed a high consumer loyalty to Coca-Cola. The customers liked the classic drink too much for it to be changed. Talking about suffering from success.
The secrets of Coca-Cola’s marketing
So Coca-Cola is too well received to fail, as long they don’t change directions. But which factors contributed further to its success, besides having an amazing product? We can distinguish 3 factors with boldness as an additional factor. But boldness, as an extra factor, never determined Coca-Cola’s winning strategy, it only determined with how much they won.
The following factors contributed to Coca-Cola’s success:
- The brand’s association with joy and happiness
- Hard work
1. The brand’s association with joy and happiness
When mister Condler took over Coca-Cola, he immediately started investing in marketing. His vision was that Coca-Cola should be associated with happiness and joy.
They fill their advertisements with families and friends all coming together to enjoy a fresh coke. You drink cola on times when you’re having a marvellous time. When you drink cola, all is good under the hood.
Coca-Cola is especially prominent during Christmas, the ‘happy holidays’, the ‘gayest time of the year’. It’s an event you spent with family and friends (once again) and everyone is happy. Coca-Cola has put dear old Santa to work as well (as if he wasn’t busy enough already) and make him appear as recurring figure in their advertisements. Dressed in red and white, Santa became the personification of Coca-Cola. When you see red and white, your brain links it to jolly Santa and jolly Coca-Cola.
Coca-Cola doesn’t promise just any drink, but a moment of refreshment. It’s the pause that refreshes. Not only do you drink cola when you’re having a good time, you will also drink it when you are in dire need of a break. It’s temporary happiness in a bottle.
It seems mundane to even mention this factor, yet without a little bit of luck, even Coca-Cola couldn’t have made it so far. Changing ownership at the beginning was the first strike of luck. It became a good product in the hands of a good marketer. When Coca-Cola became a non-alcoholic drink, the second strike of luck appeared.
That’s because the prohibition started soon after that product change; in 1920. Alcohol was forbidden throughout America and Coca-Cola took this chance. They marketed the soft drink as the perfect alternative for alcohol on social events and filled a huge gap that was left (a gap that, later in history, was filled by Dutch beer brewery Heineken, but let’s not dive deeper into that subject until maybe a next blog). Of course, cocaine wasn’t removed from the formula until 1929, 9 years later, so not only did Coca-Cola have a monopoly on stimulating drinks (except coffee), its drink was also to a certain extend addictive.
Its customers were getting hooked on its product. Customers of Coca-Cola didn’t stand a chance, honestly. Ethics aside, one must admit Coca-Cola had the devil’s luck in its ambitions for world domination.
3. Hard work
What are a good product, jolly associations, or luck without a little elbow grease? Hard work was needed for Coca-Cola to come at the point they are now. They knew they had gold in their hands; they weren’t going to just squander it. But what do we mean with work hard? In Coca-Cola’s case leg- and brainwork was put in its success. Work smart, not hard is a meaningless saying. Work smart and hard covers Coca-Cola’s mantra better.
With such a good product, Coca-Cola predicted that word-to-mouth marketing would lead to bigger sales. People only had to know the product to talk about it. They started a sampling campaign in which they handed out free Coca-Cola’s to 1 in 9 Americans. It all took place between 1886 and 1913. Word spread fast and Coca-Cola suddenly was known. And just in time for prohibition.
They kept shaping the design of the bottles. In 1915, the owner Candler held a competition to create a new design. The Root Glass Company won that competition and introduced us to the bottle shape known all over the world. As big as Candler made Coca-Cola already, his ego didn’t stand in his way to gather outsider ideas. Every person you meet knows something you don’t. It’s always healthy to explore what people outside your environment can come up with or how they can contribute to your company.
In its new shape, the bottle was now ready to be sold in multi-packs. It’s speculated that Coca-Cola became in fact the inventor of multi-packs in 1923. Buying more was now the new standard. They made Coca-Cola recognizable, they made people feel good about it, and they made people buy more.
Share a Coke
We all want to be Coca-Cola, but we all can’t be Coca-Cola. Be unique instead. But learn from its history and apply it where you can. What will help you in bringing your produce to man and to satisfy their needs? Good ol’ sampling could get you far, but what about modern solutions to reach your target audiences?
The expertise of outsiders can open your world. There are so many ways to further shape your business.
So share a coke with Manify Agency and find out how bold you can be in your marketing.