This past week, news sites have reported that the secret formula for the original Coca-Cola beverage has been discovered, but the formula is meaningless since it’s not the same Coca-Cola formula that we find in our current beverages (more on this story here). The report makes some very interesting and valid points, since the secret formula is likely to have been altered numerous times in the past few decades. How can a beverage withstand public pressures of calorie amount, health perceptions, and competitive actions without modifying its formula at all – for the last 125 years? The formula is different from country to country based on the approval of the country’s health regulations (ie. use of corn syrup or other sweeteners versus real sugar), so it’s really hard to say which version of the beverage is “The Real Thing” anymore.
From a marketing perspective, the most valuable point that Mark Pendergrast made was at the end of the article about the secret of Coca-Cola is rooted in its branding. With the changing public opinion on what’s healthy and acceptable (ie. sugar content, alcohol, cocaine, etc), Coca-Cola really has had to re-invent itself many times over the years to keep up. Even it’s packaging has changed numerous times to keep pace with expectations and demands. At this point, the items that really stick in the minds of consumers are the iconic bottle shape and the color red (to a lesser extent, polar bears and Santa Claus also remind consumers of Coca-Cola). Over numerous advertising campaigns throughout the years, these four things remain included in the advertisements. The beverage’s recipe can change over and over, but consumers will believe it’s Coca-Cola that’s in the bottle as long as these four items are included. That’s why Coca-Cola has fought hard to keep the iconic bottle trademarked, and that’s why the color red, Santa Claus, and polar bears are used in the commercials. As long as the the beverage comes from a red bottle in that iconic shape, consumers will believe it’s Coca-Cola.
The formula may have changed over the years, but the marketing remains as strong as ever. These associations bring consumers closer to the beverage, and create a connection that has the consumer believing the beverage is the original recipe. Can you think of any other associations that Coca-Cola has created with the consumer through their branding?