The Real Coke, the Real Story

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Coca-Cola began in 1885 as a small operation based in the backyard of John Pemberton, the Atlanta pharmacist who devised the original formula and cooked it in a three-legged pot, stirring it with an oar. The brew was thought to be soothing to the nerves. The earliest Coca-Cola contained enough cocaine to soothe most nerves, but this substance eventually disappeared from the list of secret ingredients that is even today known to only a handful of people.

By 1985, when the announcement was made that the original formula was to be changed as a result of a market research effort that had involved almost 200,000 people, Coca-Cola was regularly distributed in 155 countries. Daily consumption averaged 303 million units.

The Coca-Cola Corporation had expanded its market by adding cherry flavored and diet Coca-Cola, Tab, Sprite, and Minute Maid Orange Juice to its line. It had expanded outside the drink industry by purchasing Columbia Pictures and forming Tri-Star Pictures. By 1985, the seven-billion-dollar corporation provided its stockholders a 22 percent return on their investments. Shareholder approval notwithstanding, the public thought the company was tampering with the sacred when it announced its intention to phase out the old Coca-Cola.

Oliver presents a lively account of how an outraged public made an established corporate giant recant, and how that corporate giant turned its recantation into one of the most successful promotions in modern corporate advertising. Oliver offers intriguing insights into the role Pepsi-Cola played in Coca-Cola’s decision to change the hallowed formula and into its own advertising campaign, designed to capitalize on its competitors’ confused situation.