I have been a big fan of Coca-Cola ever since I was a child. I can't say that it was the first soft drink I ever drank, that would be Double Cola. It wasn't even the soft drink that I drank the most, that again would be Double Cola. But it was and still is my favourite soft drink.
Coca-Cola was a well established part of American society and American pop culture when I was born. Indeed, it was already a well established piece of Americana when my mother and father were born. Coke was invented in 1886 by Dr. John S. Pemberton. It was first served at the soda fountain in Jacob's Pharmacy in Atlanta, Georgia. While Pemberton invented the drink, he would not be the one who turn into a million dollar business. Ill in health, Pemberton started selling stock in the company. Among the buyers was one Asa Candler. It would not be long before Candler would have control of the company. It was under Candler that Coca-Cola Company was incorporated in 1892. It was also under Candler that Coca-Cola went from only being served at soda fountain to be sold at stores in bottles. It was also under Candler that Coca-Cola went from a regional drink to a national one. By 1908, it was difficult to go anywhere in the United States without seeing some sort of advertising for Coca-Cola.
Such success naturally created imitators. In fact, Coca-Cola company eventually found itself suing other soda drink manufacturers over the use of the word "cola." The company sued both Royal Crown and Pepsi for the use of the word. After literally years, Coca-Cola Company would lose the lawsuits on a technicality. Strangely enough, as jealous as of Coca-Cola Company was over the word "cola," for years they discouraged people from using the nickname "Coke" for their product. The company's objection to the nickname was simple; "coke" even then was a slang term for cocaine. Finally, in the Forties, Coca-Cola Company gave up and embraced the nickname they had once disliked.
Of course, part of Coca-Cola's success lie in the company's advertising. In fact, perhaps no other company has such a rich history of great advertising slogans. Its earliest slogan was a simple but effective "Drink Coca-Cola." By 1922 Coca-Cola ads would boast, "Thirst knows no season," but it was in 1929 that Coke's ad men developed one the soft drink's two quintessential slogans--"The pause that refreshes." One of the most successful advertising slogans of all time, it is still associated with the soft drink. The other quintessential slogan for Coca-Cola was developed in the late Sixties, although the phrase "the real thing" had been used as early as the Forties: "It's the real thing." Of course, Coca-Cola Company did not employ slogans alone to sell the soft drink. Some of the best art in the Twentieth Century was created simply to sell Coke. Gil Elvgren painted a bevy of lovely ladies for Coca-Cola advertisements. And Haddon Sundblom's paintings Santa Claus remain famous to this day. Of course, like nearly every other major product of the Twentieth Century, Coca-Cola used celebrities in their advertising. Cary Grant, Jean Harlow, Claudette Cobert, and Clark Gable all appeared in ads for Coke.
Coca-Cola has gone through many Golden Ages, but I would guess that I was born during one of them. In 1961 Coca-Cola received even more exposure in Billy Wilder's Comedy One, Two, Three. In 1961 the company introduced Sprite, which has gone onto become one of the more successful soft drinks out there. And the company had two very successful advertising campaigns. In 1963 ads for the soft drink boasted "Things go better with Coke." And, as mentioned above, the late Sixties saw the introduction of the slogan "It's the real thing." Nineteen seventy one may have marked a high point for Coke advertising. It was that year that the classic "I'd like to teach the world to sing" commercial aired on television.
One would think that as well established as Coca-Cola was, as much of part n of Americana as it was, as much of an icon as it was, that Coca-Cola Company would not want to meddle with the product. Amazingly enough, they did. In 1985 Coca-Cola Company introduced "New Coke." "New Coke" was intended to replace the original Coca-Cola, even though it was still the most successful soft drink in the world and even though it was clearly an American institution. The reaction of the public was, quite simply, outraged. Coca-Cola Company was flooded with phone calls and letters demanding the return of the original Coca-Cola. People (including myself) began hoarding the original product. Within three months Coca-Cola Company was forced to announce the return of the original Coca-Cola under the name "Coca-Cola Classic." As to New Coke, let's just say it is no longer being manufactured...
The reaction to New Coke taught Coca-Cola Company something that apparently everyone else knew. Coca-Cola is as much a part of America as baseball and apple pie. While there are those who favour Pepsi, Dr. Pepper, or some other soft drink, it is Coca-Cola that has always sold the best. And it is Coca-Cola that figures the most in American pop culture, from songs ("Rum And Coca-Cola," being one example) to movies (the aforementioned One, Two, Three). Somehow I get the feeling that had Pepsico decided to replace their original product with "New Pepsi" in 1985, the reaction would not have been quite so extreme...