Superbrands case studies: Coca-Cola

Originally published in 'Consumer Superbrands Volume V', March 2003. The book reviews the UK's strongest consumer brands as judged by an independent judging panel.

Case study provided by Superbrands.


Coca-Cola is a truly global brand. Not only is it at the top of Interbrand's global brand league and been consistently voted a Superbrand, it is the best selling FMCG brand in Great Britain. Diet Coke too is a major brand in its own right. It is the UK's second most popular soft drink brand and eighth biggest grocery brand.

Coca-Cola aims to refresh consumers with their choice of non-alcoholic ready-to-drink beverages and has a broad range of soft drink brands, including juices, waters and carbonated soft drinks. The Coca-Cola Company's products continue to perform well, displaying steady long term growth and are consumed over one billion times a day in over 200 countries.

While carbonated soft drinks account for over 47% of all UK soft drink sales, GB per capita consumption of soft drinks (194 8oz servings per person per year) is somewhat below other European consumers and significantly below that of US consumers (340 servings). However per capita consumption has grown by 20% in the last seven years (Source: Canadean 2001).


'Coca-Cola' is the most recognised trademark in the world, with 94% global recognition. It is also commonly thought that it is the second most widely understood word in the world, after 'OK'.

Beyond doubt Coca-Cola is the most valuable brand on the planet, worth an estimated US$72.5 billion in Interbrand's global brand league. The strength of this global success lies in the relevant local connections that Coca-Cola builds with its consumers every day. In 1982 Coca-Cola launched Diet Coke, which is now the most popular diet soft drink in the world.

All of this has been achieved through an extremely successful combination of global distribution and powerful local marketing. The drink is distributed to more than 200 countries and its strategy is based on the aim that nobody should be more than a few minutes away from an opportunity to buy a Coke. Supporting this, is one of the biggest and most widespread bottling and distribution networks in the world, sending Coca-Cola to all corners of the globe.

Its marketing is legendary, investing in one of the first-ever global advertising campaigns with the 1979 ad 'I'd like to buy the world a Coke'. Sponsorship of major global sporting events such as the Olympic Games and the FIFA World Cup, ensures that the brand not only taps into national passions for sport, but is present when nations come together. The progressive marketing strategy of Coca-Cola is based on a simple message -- that it wants to refresh, surprise and inspire everyone who touches the brand.


Coca-Cola was invented in 1886 by John Styth Pemberton, a pharmacist in Atlanta, Georgia. He brewed the syrup in a brass pot in his backyard. Even at this early stage, the power of branding was important, with Pemberton's partner, Frank M Robinson, naming the dark brown liquid 'Coca-Cola' because he thought the two Cs would work well in advertising. Having laid the foundations for the product and the brand, the two sold their interests to Atlanta businessman, Asa G Candler in 1888. The famous signature 'flourish' of Coca-Cola was registered as a trademark in 1893. Candler was a marketing genius and ensured that the Coca-Cola trademark appeared on countless products, from clocks to glass chandeliers. By 1895, thanks to Candler's skill, Coca-Cola was available in every US state.

The design for the famous Coca-Cola glass 'Contour' bottle was created in 1915. It was done to protect the brand from a growing army of imitators, determined to cash in on its success. The company wanted to communicate to consumers that there was only one authentic, Coca-Cola. Designers were given the brief to create a bottle 'which a person will recognise as a Coca-Cola bottle, even if felt in the dark. The bottle should be shaped that, even if broken, a person could tell what it was'.

In 1919 the Candler family sold The Coca-Cola Company to Atlanta banker Ernest Woodruff and a group of businessmen. In 1923 Ernest's son Robert Woodruff, elected president of the company, decreed 'Coca-Cola should always be within an arm's reach of desire', setting down a principle which remains central to the company's distribution strategy today.

The distribution expertise of Coca-Cola has been built on the backbone of its bottling operations. The first bottling device was set up by a shopkeeper in 1894, allowing him to trade crates of Coke up and down the Mississippi river. The first major bottling plant was inaugurated soon after, and from 1926 bottling operations spread abroad.

By the outbreak of World War II, the drink was being bottled in over 44 countries. The war helped boost the brand's international distribution and profile, as US soldiers posted abroad demanded and were sent Coke in vast quantities.

In 1982 Diet Coke was launched. This was the first brand extension of the Coca-Cola trademark and an instant success: by 1984, it was the third biggest soft drink in the US and by 1990 the second biggest soft drink in the UK.


The Coca-Cola product range includes Coca-Cola and Diet Coke along with additional flavour varieties such as Cherry Coke, caffeine-free Diet Coke, Diet Coke with Lemon and, in the US, Vanilla Coke.

As for the formula, there's very little to say. It is one of the most closely guarded secrets in the world.

Recent developments

Coca-Cola is continuously looking to deliver against consumer needs and uses consumer insights to help shape progressive new solutions to packaging and product offerings. In Great Britain, changing demographics and the growing number of two-person households, drove the 2002 launch of a new sized 1.25 litre bottle for Coca-Cola and Diet Coke.

June 2002 saw the launch of Diet Coke with Lemon. Developed with a taste specially formulated for the British public, it has performed extremely well since launch, already capturing a significant share of the market and showing a very high repeat purchase rate.


The first-ever Coca-Cola advertisement was an oil cloth sign, bearing the phrase 'Delicious and Refreshing'. Since then the brand's slogans have developed from 'It's the real thing' in 1942 (used again in 1969) to 'Things go better with Coke' in 1963. There has also been 'Coke adds life' (1976), 'Have a Coke and a smile' (1979), 'Coke is it!' (1982), 'Always Coca-Cola' (1993), 'Coca-Cola Enjoy' (2000) and 'Life Tastes Good' (2001).

The 2002 advertising of Coca-Cola in Great Britain was based on specific British insights and was rated by consumers as some of the most enjoyable yet from the brand. The World Cup ad was an animated 'zero to hero' story of 'Leggsy', a three-legged boy who realises every football fan's dream of scoring the winning goal for England at the World Cup. In the Summer,'Mower Man' took an optimistic (and humorous) look at one man's spontaneous way of finding his perfect English summer dream.

The authentic Coca-Cola Contour bottle has always been a timeless design classic, but 2002 saw the resurgence of the bottle as a modern icon. In 48 sheet outdoor posters, the Coca-Cola Contour bottle took on a modern, highly sensuous look, with a series of slick images of the bottle's curves juxtaposed with the curves of the human body. Chilled glass bottles of Coke have always had a place in the hands of trendsetters in bars and at events and parties all over the country.

As a leading marketer Coke continues to innovate with impactful promotions on a big scale that engage and appeal with broad consumer audiences. 2001's 'Music4You' was the biggest ever music promotion, run in conjunction with The Sun and News of the World newspapers. This opened up a massive range of music items and money-can't-buy experiences for consumers for which they collected tokens and made online bids.

In 2002, Coca-Cola linked with one of the most credible music magazines in Great Britain, NME, to launch an on-pack promotion offering thousands of gig tickets and 'access all areas' experiences to music fans.

Coke is a brand which also has the ability to work in ways which capture the imagination and bring a progressive feel to its activities. Christmas 2001 saw Coca-Cola unveil the record-breaking World's Biggest Advent Calendar on the side of Birmingham's Town Hall: the huge scale of the 3D calendar gave a sense of festive drama to the city centre, while themed events brought the community together as each window came to life every day with music, fireworks and, on Christmas Eve, Santa appeared with 'real' snow.

The brand used its global link with Warner Brothers' Harry Potter films to 'Bring the magic of reading alive' -- a three-year worldwide partnership launched with the opening of 'Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone'. As part of this commitment, Coca-Cola in Great Britain pledged to distribute 300,000 books to schools and community libraries.

Coca-Cola has a long-standing heritage of supporting sport and in particular football, where the brand invests at every level of the game - from international tournaments right through to community and grassroots levels. In the global arena, Coca-Cola has sponsored every World Cup tournament since 1978 and has maintained an unbroken presence at every Olympic Games since 1928.

Coca-Cola regularly offers consumers the chance to do things they would never normally be able to: the FIFA World Cup 2002 activation saw Coca-Cola encouraging fans to 'Eat Football, Sleep Football, Drink Coca-Cola' through a multi-faceted programme of innovative marketing activity - including bringing the FIFA World Cup Trophy to England for fans to touch and lift in a whirlwind one-day tour.

In a world first, Coca-Cola invited consumers to design a perimeter board ad to support the football teams out in Japan and Korea. The winning design from England - by a seven year old boy from Huddersfield - featured pitchside at all England's World Cup matches.

2001 saw a further strengthening of support from Coca-Cola of top level English domestic football in the signing of a three year deal to sponsor ITV1's The Premiership weekly football highlights programme.

With an eye on the future of football, the brand has created a number of major grass roots tournaments which encourage children to get out and enjoy playing the game - including the English Schools Football Association Coca-Cola English Schools Cup - the biggest tournament of its kind open to boys and girls under thirteen - and the Scottish Schools Football Association'Coca-Cola 7s', an U12s 7-a-side football tournament.

Diet Coke has a sexy heritage built from the 'Diet Coke Break' ads, starting with the hunky window cleaner now developed on to the lighthearted 'Taste the Moment' advertising campaign. Diet Coke in 2002 turned its bottles silver and invited consumers to take a chance at winning a 'Silver Spree' with a £100,000 spending spree up for grabs.

Brand values

Coca-Cola is renowned for being the world's biggest brand. In Great Britain, on average, it touches consumers over 50 times a day. The brand's personality has the values of an 'optimistic spirit, authenticity, leadership and sociability'. The taste of Coca-Cola, brings 'thirst-quenching and energising refreshment' when served 'ice-cold'.

Things you didn't know

  • In 1995 Coca-Cola established The Coca-Cola Youth Foundation. The focus of the charity is to provide a positive contribution to the development of youngsters, helping them to achieve their full potential.

  • Father Christmas, as we know him with red suit, long beard and jolly face, was first illustrated with those characteristics for a Coca-Cola advert back in the 1930s.

  • Coca-Cola has been associated with the Special Olympics for over 24 years.

  • Coca-Cola was a founder member of Tidy Britain Group (now ENCAMS), established in 1965 and had a long association with three key programmes -- National Spring Clean; People & Places and Eco-Schools. The current Sweeper Zone programme targets litter at and around major football clubs, with young people from the local community interacting with fans to raise awareness and improve the immediate environment.

  • Since 1996 Coca-Cola has developed the Coca-Cola Valued Youth programme, a pupil tutoring scheme that meets the needs of secondary school students who need support to keep them in school. The project was expanded to include 3,000 pupils in 2002, and operates in eighteen local education authority areas.

    © 2003 Superbrands Ltd

    If you have an opinion on this or any other issue raised on Brand Republic, join the debate in the Forum here.

  • You have

    [DAYS_LEFT] Days left

    of your free trial

    Subscribe now

    Get a team licence 

     Give your teams unrestricted access to in-depth editorial analysis, breaking news and premium reports with a bespoke subscription to Campaign.

    Find out more

    Market Reports

    Get unprecedented new-business intelligence with access to Campaign’s new Advertising Intelligence Market Reports.

    Find out more

    Looking for a new job?

    Get the latest creative jobs in advertising, media, marketing and digital delivered directly to your inbox each day.

    Create an Alert Now