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Coca-Cola is known to have had some of the most innovative and successful advertising of all time, and this may in part account for the product's popularity over time. Its success began back before the turn of the century, but saw a real boost in 1931, when a popular illustrated ad that appeared in the Saturday Evening Post depicted Santa Claus drinking a coke, inspired by the poem "A Visit from Saint Nicholas." Coca-Cola created many advertising slogans over the years, with some lingering longer than others, like "The Pause that Refreshes" from 1929, "Things Go Better with Coke" from 1963, and "It's the Real Thing" (1969) and "I'd Like to Buy the World a Coke" (1971).

These latter two slogans formed part of a very successful campaign that featured young people of all races dressed in the "hippie garb" associated with the anti-war movement. The popular song "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing" was co-opted and the lyrics sightly re-written for the campaign, but the powerful lyrics still conveyed a message of peace and love that resonated deeply with an American public shattered by the losses of the war in Vietnam. The creation of this campaign and the events that inspired it are portrayed in a fictionalized way in the popular AMC television series Mad Men. In this story line, advertising executive Don Draper, who has always wanted to secure business with Coca-Cola, is inspired by a retreat in the mountains of California to develop the "Real Thing" campaign. The inspired creation of this campaign was one of the most popular advertising achievements in history, and accounts for the product's runaway popularity in the 1970s.

Coca-Cola received some negative publicity when it was discovered the company had business holdings in South Africa, where the racist system of apartheid became prominent over a decade after Coca-Cola built its facilities there. The company was targeted by activists for supporting this oppressive regime. Not until it divested these holdings in 1986 did the company manage to improve its image; however, sales of Coca-Cola were not overwhelmingly negatively affected, despite the stain on its public image.

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For the most part, people buy Coca Cola because of the image that the brand of soda projects.  They feel that Coke is a product that is used by “cool” people or by people who are in some way admirable.  For this reason, they buy Coke when there are any number of other products that could quench their thirst just as well.

Brands like Coke need to engage in marketing that differentiates their product from others.  While there are differences in taste between Coke and other drinks, this is not what drives much of the demand for Coke and this is not what Coke focuses on in its advertising.  Instead, Coke tries to project an image.  People who buy Coke are fun people.  They are active.  They are cool.  Thus, by buying Coke, consumers are in some sense identifying themselves with those attributes.

Thus, Coke is not really bought because of the way it tastes.  Instead, it is bought for the image that it projects and the image that people who buy Coke want to project of themselves.

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