Coca-Cola is a global corporation that not only created an iconic beverage, but also an exemplary brand. More than one billion Cokes are consumed every day. This brand is so iconic, collectors clamor for Coca-Cola memorabilia including antique ads, signs, bottles and other branded paraphernalia.
Coke’s popularity has lasted generations, but goes beyond the quality of the product. The company has a way of capturing historical moments and using advertisements to reflect on values, fears, interests and aspirations of society. As we look back at Coca-Cola ads through the ages, we stopped to look specifically at how the era and audience contributed heavily to the brand’s success.
Whether you’re a collector of Coca-Cola memorabilia or not, when you look back at a Coke advertisement from 1920, stop for a minute to think about who would have seen it and how that would have affected them. Take note of the increasing diversity of gender, race, and age as well as the evolution of technology and fashion. Both national and international events shaped how people interpreted each advertisement, and contributed to Coca-Cola becoming one of the most-loved – and most collected – brands in the world.
This advertisement from the 1890s shows a Victorian woman enjoying a cup of Coca-Cola. Her opulent dress with enlarged sleeves, gloves and hat, paired with the strand of pearls indicate her position in society.
Toward the end of the 19th century, Coca-Cola had just been created and was still trying to find its niche. Initially intended as a medicine, a businessman took ownership of the company and decided to rebrand it as a soft-drink. From this advertisement, it appears as if the soft-drink market wanted to compete with coffee and tea. Rather than just being a beverage that accompanied a meal, Coca-Cola was meant to be enjoyed as a treat, preferably with a friend.
Similar to the ad from the previous century, this brightly colored creation asks the reader to drink Coca-Cola as a replacement for coffee. You can tell that they are beginning to play with colors and symbolism. Their Coca-Cola typography was decided early and really stood the test of time, but they had not yet landed upon the color red which would be a game-changer for their marketing strategy and entire brand.
By the early 19th century, Coca-Cola had landed upon red—a color known to draw attention. As with the other three ads, the company portrayed the upper echelon of society. They made a move to target housewives as housewives likely had time to enjoy a fountain drink and were more likely to take the children to a soda shop. The bright color scheme and vibrant border really make this ad stand apart from the rest of this series.
Coca-Cola landed on a packaging goldmine. Not only did they begin branding their iconic glass bottles, they also created carriers so you could purchase the beverage and carry it home to enjoy with your family. The evolution of Coca-Cola advertisements reveal just as much about societal changes as they do the industrial and technological revolution and the development of commercialism as a whole.
Illustrator Haddon Sundblom was called upon by Coca-Cola to create a “wholesome” Santa that could be used in magazine advertisements around the holidays. Sundblom referenced Clement Clark Moore’s poem, popularly called “’Twas the Night Before Christmas,” to come up with a fitting characterization. He wanted his vision to be jolly, plump and human rather than the elvine, ghostly, or fairy versions that had been popular before. It is rumored that Santa was portrayed in a red coat because it is the color of Coca-Cola.
In 1936, Coca-Cola celebrated its 50th anniversary. The first line reads, “Fashions in clothes change. But human thirst is always the same.” Coca-Cola not only established its lasting power as a brand, it also serves as a reference for the evolution of marketing. The wholesome ideal of femininity is evolving as is evidenced in the juxtaposition in fashion trends. As clothing became tighter and more revealing, female sexuality became a revolutionary sales tactic.
This ad in the 1940s shows an idyllic version of an American wartime holiday. In 1945, when this ad was printed, the tides had begun shifting in World War II from the Axis to the Allied forces. The military-industrial complex had rebooted the American economy after the disaster of the Great Depression. World War II veterans were American heroes who had helped preserve the values of our society.
Mary Alexander, pictured above, was the first African American women depicted in a Coca-Cola ad in 1955. The ads featuring Mary were printed on newspaper, magazines, and even billboards and subway stations. Mary marked a wave of political stances assumed by the corporation and set a precedent for other brands to capitalize on.
Coca-Cola decided to take a stand and do something novel. After the race riots and assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., they ran an ad featuring African-Americans and white Americans together. Photographer Jay Maisel captured a group of boys together enjoying soda on a New York City bench. When you take a closer look, you may notice they are seated on a segregation bench, shoulder to shoulder.
In 1976, Coke begin their “Coke adds life” campaign. This ad establishes Coke as the perfect addition to every social situation, particularly for young people. They wanted to convey that Coke was not just a drink, but a refreshment people could enjoy together. Starting in the sixties, you begin to see a shift in their target audience from family provider to young adults.