Mini Case Study: Coca-Cola
Clearly, branding has had quite an evolution over the past few centuries. From actual brands used to claim ownership of livestock to the very essence that defines a modern business — branding is now a vital part of any company’s success.
To get a better feeling for what this branding evolution can look like, let’s consider an example: Coca-Cola.
The Coca-Cola Company was established in 1886 and started off marketing their carbonated soda as a “temperance drink” and over-the-counter medicine. Early ads even claimed Coca-Cola was “as wholesome as pure water” that people should drink it “every day — many times a day”.
Source: Fine Art America
Obviously, there were not yet any hard-and-fast regulations as to what kind of claims brands could make when advertising. However, this particular ad is a great example of Coca-Cola’s earliest branding. Any consumer who saw it would think that refined ladies love Coca-Cola, it’s a healthy thing to drink, and it’s unique.
In the bottom right corner, they even go as far as to say “Whenever you see an Arrow think of Coca-Cola.” Clearly, they knew what they were doing — establishing a recognizable brand identity, from the logo to the symbols used.
To explore how this brand identity evolved, let’s look at some ads from the following decades.
Coca-Cola Ads: 1950s
The Coca-Cola ads of the 1950s are iconic — colorful, cheerful, and eye-catching, these ads made it seem as though drinking Coca-Cola would fix all your life’s problems.
Source: CR Fashion Book
Interestingly, the 50s Coke ads still claim the drink is “pure and wholesome” and that it’s a “real refreshment for everybody.” In keeping with previous decade’s styles, 50s Coca-Cola ads follow a similar pattern — happy, beautiful people are engaging in fun activities made even better by drinking Coca-Cola.
Taking a Norman Rockwell-style approach to depicting the people in their ads, Coke did a great job of consistently defining and refining their brand, as well as promoting brand recognition. When consumers thought about Coca-Cola, they thought of happiness, refreshment, and wholesomeness.
Coca-Cola Ads: 1970s
The Coke ads of the 70s took an interesting turn — gone were the perfect, cookie-cutter families. In their place, Coca-Cola’s advertising became more far more “of-the-time”.
Most famously, in 1971 they released the “Hilltop” commercial, where a group of multicultural young men and women sang “I’d like to buy the world a Coke” while standing on — you guessed it — a hilltop.
The 1970s was the era of the Antiwar Movement and the fight for civil and women’s rights. It was a tumultuous time, filled with upheaval and cultural changes. And instead of fighting against these developments, Coca-Cola embraced them.
In this and other 70s ads, Coke let consumers know that they were moving with the times — hip, informed, and always ready to meet their customers’ needs. It’s this kind of forward-thinking advertising that has kept Coke relevant for so long — not to mention it harkened back to the time of the jingle.
Coca-Cola Ads: 1990s - 2000s
In the late 80s, Coca-Cola unveiled its new slogan, “You can’t beat the feeling!”, which was heavily used in its 90s & 2000s ads.
Source: CR Fashion Book
With ads showing cool guys in leather jackets and sunglasses eating pizza and drinking Coke, the brand knew exactly what they were doing. By associating Coke with people and things that were hip at the time, the brand was able to project an image of effortless trendiness.
Coca-Cola Ads: 2010s - Now
In the 2010s, Coca-Cola began to try out more collaborations. Instead of just hiring famous faces to represent their brand, Coke adapted its brand strategy to offer limited-edition versions of the drink — collaborating with the likes of Karl Lagerfeld and J.W. Anderson.
Source: ici & là
Most recently, Coca-Cola has been leaning hard into the emotional angle with its advertising during the Covid-19 global pandemic. Using its “Together tastes better” slogan, Coke ads from 2020 and 2021 often featured families and friends spending quality time together.
The brand also released limited-edition packs this year featuring “a series of inspiring resolutions to encourage consumers to reflect on 2020 and look ahead to how we can be ‘Open To Better’ in 2021”.
Using the #opentobetter tag, Coca-Cola is encouraging consumers to share the ways the past year has changed their lives and to appreciate things previously taken for granted — a campaign of positivity, so to speak.
And while this may seem like a new angle, it still fits in perfectly with one of Coke’s main brand associations — happiness.
Bonus Insight: The Coca-Cola Logo
Finally, let’s consider the logo itself. There have been many different permutations — from the simple black-and-white type of the 19th century to the iconic red, cursive version of modern times.
Source: Logos World
Interestingly, the current Coca-Cola logo is actually the same as the one that was used between 1941-1986. It seems that Coca-Cola’s brand management team decided to go retro in 2003 by adopting an older version of the logo.
In many ways, this fits with the recent re-emergence of the nostalgia marketing trend. A tactic that’s been popular during hard times, nostalgia marketing uses familiar, sentimental content to connect with consumers on an emotional level — making them feel comfortable and safe.
By using an older version of their logo, Coca-Cola is harkening back to the days of old — when things were simpler. The “nostalgia” angle is a part of much of Coca-Cola’s marketing strategy, and since they’ve been around for so many decades, they come by it honestly.
As a brand that’s been wildly successful for decades and, in many ways, defined its market, Coca-Cola is the perfect example of how branding can successfully evolve under the right guidance and leadership.
Coca-Cola is also a brand that possesses a deep understanding of its customers' needs, wants, and painpoints — seen in the way it’s remained relevant since the late 19th century. And if you’d like to take a deep dive into your own brand’s perception and brand awareness levels, we recommend trying out brand monitoring.
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