I love you. You are an incredible product. You are the Babe Ruth of soft drinks, the proprietor of the word “cola,” and most of all, the brand of all brands. Your brand is not just bulletproof; it’s indestructible—even from self-inflicted damage.
Interbrand, the global branding giant, recently valued you at 63.3 billion dollars. We’re not talking stimulus money here, but that’s huge. Most brands would be happy with .3 billion dollars.
About a million times a day someone orders a Coke in a restaurant that serves the number two cola and is immediately given an apology, “I’m sorry, is Pepsi OK?” You have your closest competitor, a major brand in its own right, constantly admitting that they are not you. Have you ever heard somebody order a “Rum and Pepsi?” I haven’t.
You guys redesigned Santa Claus, for crying out loud.
Years ago, your name became slang for a dangerous drug. But who cares? Heck, you once had a bit of it in your formula, right? For some brands it would be a death sentence; for you, it’s a cool factoid of your heritage.
And that secret formula story is downright mythic. Created by Dr. Pemberton in 1886–only two people have it and each knows only half. One guy has it committed to memory and the other spent the last eight years in an undisclosed location with Dick Cheney shooting Pepsi cans off fence posts. Ok, that’s a stretch.
You are so beloved by your customers that you have survived 100 years of changing tastes, cultural upheaval, and most famously, shooting yourself in both feet by introducing New Coke and dumping your flagship product. Did customers go running to a competitor and tank your sales, as happened to Tropicana this year for nothing more than a package change? No, they simply demanded in various levels of outrage that you bring it back. And you did.
Now that’s brand LOYALTY.
(A brand tangent: Which was worse: Vista or New Coke? Hard to say, but Coke just said, “Oops, my bad!” and moved on. Microsoft refused to back down and helped Apple grow.)
Branding briefs have leaked out from Coca Cola’s global headquarters in Atlanta (the city where the very first Coke was sold) stating that Coke should be positioned as the essence of life, an indivisible part of living fabulously. (Current slogan: “Open Happiness”) Coke is a global symbol of America, the most exported element of our culture, a fixture in hundreds of countries around the world.
And yet… And yet, as a brand you are terrifically hard to learn from. Mere mortal brands must worry constantly about their customers’ changing tastes and fickle loyalties. Coke? Not so much. I’m not saying you don’t market your cans off, but you’re so ubiquitous, so everywhere and everything, that it’s pretty hard to emulate your success. Sometimes it seems like you can afford to sponsor every sporting event on earth. Where’s the lesson in that?
Here’s what marketers can take home along with an ice cold six pack of cola heaven:
Coke is remarkably consistent. They haven’t meaningfully changed their Coca Cola name or logo in well over 100 years. (The original design was handwritten by Dr. Pemberton’s bookkeeper, Frank Robinson, in 1886. You couldn’t make this stuff up if you tried.) They own the colors red and white and stick with them. (They recast Santa in their colors for a promotion in the 1930s that became the standard vision of the jolly old elf.) Coke owns and leverages the most famous package trademark ever—the Coke bottle. What does a Pepsi bottle look like?
Coke is a leader and acts like one. They execute a lot of marketing elements very well, from aggressive advertising and promotion, to highly effective distribution, to pairing themselves with other wholesome leading brands like McDonalds, NASCAR, American Idol and the Olympics. And Coke knows its brand story. Visit their web site and they’ll tell you. Click on a link and they’ll have their customers tell you. They keep their brand story alive and well and linked to American life in good times or bad. Coke keeps us going. It’s always the right time for a Coke.
Yes, Coke, I brand-love you. You have elevated your brand of sugar water to the status of cultural icon, yet I can fill up anytime I want for less than a buck. You are the amazing, infallible super-brand. In fact, you said it best with your slogan from many years ago, and it’s still true today: Coke is it.
—Dave Taylor, Taylor Brand Group