Holidays are coming: The Coca Cola Christmas branding story…

Image for post
Image for post

Do you feel like it just isn’t Christmas until you’ve seen those brightly-lit Coca Cola trucks on the television? Or, is that just me?

While there are many different things that can symbolise the festive season, from glitter splattered red-chested robins to fake pine trees and the sickly smell of cinnamon, there are few companies that can claim their image is synonymous with all things Christmas.

We’re gearing up for the festive period at Fabrik, and I couldn’t think of a better way to do that, than by continuing our “Born in the USA” series with an exploration into one of the most famous, and popular brands in the world.

I’ll be taking a brief look at how the Coke brand emerged from an overlooked cocaine-infused beverage in 1886, into a worldwide phenomenon, selling around 1.9 billion servings to customers every day!

After all, Coca Cola isn’t just an iconic American brand, it’s also a company that’s changed the world for marketers and branding experts alike. If you’re looking for an insight into truly revolutionary brand building, Coke really is “the real thing”.

Image for post
Image for post

The Coca Cola story: From pharmacy elixir to global phenomenon

Coca Cola began in 1886 when a pharmacist called Dr. John S. Pemberton in Atlanta created a unique soft drink syrup designed to be sold at soda fountains. When Pemberton brought his new flavour to local companies, they deemed it “excellent”, and the Coca Cola brand story began. Of course, that the Coke formula in vast quantities ‘might’ lead to tooth decay and increased calorific intake were not considerations, these were different times.

Pemberton’s bookkeeper, Frank M. Robinson, named the new drink “Coca Cola”, and designed the trademark typography for the logo — a swirling serif font that’s still familiar today. Eventually, Pemberton sold his shares of the company off just before his death to various people, including Asa G. Candler. From there, the brand began to expand across the globe, gradually becoming the phenomenon, we know today.

The connection between Coke and Christmas didn’t begin until 1931, several decades after the brand was launched. Interestingly, many people believe that the Coke brand is responsible for creating Santa Claus — the iconic figure of the holiday season. While this isn’t entirely true, it is certain that Coca Cola changed the image of Father Christmas forever.

Image for post
Image for post

Coca Cola: The ultimate Christmas brand

Although Coke uses its Santa Claus as an essential part of its brand awareness strategy, and many people link the figure to the soft drink brand, the truth is that Coca Cola didn’t create St. Nick. In fact, Father Christmas has been around for centuries, appearing in many different forms throughout mythology and folklore.

While Coke didn’t necessarily embed Santa Clause into our cultural heritage, they did change the way we view this jolly festive figure. In 1931, the company commissioned an illustrator named Haddon Sundblom to create an oil painting of Santa drinking a coke during Christmas. Sundblom based his image on the concept of Santa from the Clement Clarke Moor Poem, “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas”, all the way down to the rosy cheeks, and round belly.

This image of Santa Claus, decked in Coca Cola’s distinctive brand colours, was mixed with a little bit of careful brand building, and in no time, Coke’s version of Father Christmas was being embraced by cultures around the world. Eventually, the company was able to transform their concept of Santa Claus, into the definitive icon of the holiday season.

Image for post
Image for post

A brand isn’t just for Christmas: The Coca Cola identity

While the connection between the Christmas holiday and Coca Cola might be difficult to ignore, it’s important to remember that there’s more to the brand’s identity than its festive links.

In fact, the very decision to connect Santa Claus with the Coca Cola brand identity may just be an extension of Coke’s effort to showcase its unique personality and engage its target audience. After all, this is a company that’s always worked hard to connect brand image with ideas of community, joy, and experience.

Even the first ad campaign created by Coke features images of happy, smiling customers.

Image for post
Image for post

Over the decades, Coca Cola has built a brand voice that resonates with celebrations and joyful memories. The image and identity Coke has chosen to create hasn’t wavered over the years. In fact, every marketing campaign it creates uses carefully-selected words and images to portray feelings of happiness to customers.

On top of that, Coke has its impeccable visual identity to thank for a huge amount of its loyal fanbase. For instance, the Coca Cola brand colours were chosen for a reason. Red is a shade that triggers impulse buys in customers, while white is a pure and refreshing colour. Today, 94% of the world can instantly identify the Coke logo from colour alone.

At the same time, while Coca Cola has experimented with its logo over the years, it has remained largely true to the classic serif script — designed by Frank Robinson when the brand first began. While many other organisations have changed their logos with the times, Coke holds onto the same imagery, supported by the same values.

Whether it’s a picture of a rosy-cheeked Santa Claus, or swirling font, the persistent feel and image of Coca Cola mean that every new marketing message taps into more than 130 years of warm, fuzzy feelings. To the average customer, the Coke brand is as familiar as an old friend.

’Tis the season for better branding

Of all the lessons that emerging companies can learn from Coca Cola’s branding efforts, perhaps the most important teaching, is that great brands come from an emotional place.

Whether it’s the creation of the Santa Claus that we all know and love today, or the decision that Coke made to continue using the same logo font for more than 130 years, this beverage brand knows how to connect to its audience on an emotional level.

Image for post
Image for post

The USP for Coca Cola isn’t about producing a fizzier, sweeter, or even healthier brand, it’s a promise to deliver an exceptional, and “joyful” experience. When you buy a coke, you’re buying into a community and a universal idea.

If you’d like to read more, check out my in-depth article on this brilliant brand. Here, you’ll discover the full Coca Cola story, and how you can use its exceptional marketing and branding tactics to boost your own marketing efforts.

When it comes to amazing branding, for the holiday season or otherwise, it’s safe to say that there’s only one Coke. Enjoy!

Written by

Marketer and co-owner of creative agency Fabrik Brands, London. An acute interest in branding, naming, music, gadgets and sharing content.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store