What Coca-Cola Teaches Us About Branding

Coca-Cola is undoubtedly one of the most recognized brands on the planet.  In fact surveys show that 94% of the world’s population recognizes the red-and-white logo.   Every day across the world, more than one billion bottles of Coke are sold.   Why the everlasting popularity? While sound business practices and global reach certainly have an impact, Coca-Cola has one HUGE advantage its competition does not have…logo longevity.  Let us explain.
The First Coca-Cola Logo
The first glass of Coke was sold in 1886, after pharmacist Atlanta Pemberton mixed up a concoction and added soda water to it. The first logo was created when Pemberton’s accountant, Frank Robinson named the product and wrote it out in Spencerian script. Here is what it looked like.

Pepsi’s Logo
Pepsi was created just a few short years after the first glass of Coke was served. Its original logo was very similar to the Coca-Cola logo. In 1898, this is what Pepsi’s logo looked like.  Hummmm….pretty similar, no?


But Pepsi didn’t stop there. Beginning in the 1950’s Pepsi started changing and developing its logo, sometimes changing it drastically. Meanwhile, Coca-Cola’s logo remained the same.


The Pepsi logo incorporated a third color, blue. It still maintained the same script (aka font), but added the bottle cap image.



Then, Pepsi ditches the script altogether and the word “cola” and changes to a completely different block style text.



The bottle cap logo is changed, but the colors stay the same. This logo remains unchanged for around 16 years.



A dramatic change in Pepsi’s logo.



The current Pepsi logo is now very different from the original Pepsi logo of the 19th century.


“So What?” you say.  “What’s the big deal?  I like the new logo.  It looks modern and fresh”.

Ok so let’s compare.  Pepsi is above and the current Coca-Cola logo is below.  Still pretty much the same.


So why is this important? And what does this mean in terms of marketing?  Well here is the answer.

Coke vs. Pepsi: It’s In Your Brain (not your taste buds!)

In blind taste tests, people consistently prefer Pepsi over Coke. Yet when both beverages are labeled, Coke wins every time. Researchers have coined this phenomenon the “Pepsi Paradox,” and for a long time could only guess that Coca-Cola’s marketing was responsible for the mental preference.

In 2004, Read Montague, a researcher at Baylor College of Medicine, did an interesting study that revealed just how ingrained the Coca-Cola brand has become in the minds of the millions of people who prefer it.

Montague performed MRI scans on volunteers while they drank both Pepsi and Coke. When people drank samples of each, without being told which was which, they preferred Pepsi. The MRI scans showed that the Pepsi caused greater activity in the ventral putamen, the part of the brain that registers pleasure.

But once the volunteers were told which beverage they were tasting, they immediately switched their answers and stated that they preferred Coke. During that taste test, the medial prefrontal cortex of the brain lit up on the MRI. That part of the brain is associated with memories and self-identification. The higher-functioning prefrontal cortex actually over-rode the more visceral part of the brain that acknowledges pleasure—branding beat out actual taste.

Logo Longevity Leads to Brand Domination

So if people actually prefer the taste of Pepsi over that of Coke, why do our brains change our minds once we know we’re drinking Coke? Because we associate Coca-Cola with strong memories and identify the brand in positive ways.

Coca-Cola’s marketing has always been about creating feel-good memories. The old-fashioned Christmas advertisements with the vintage Santa Clauses, the “I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke” commercials, the more recent adorable baby polar bears… all are designed to evoke warm, fuzzy feelings about the brand.

Since the basic Coca-Cola logo hasn’t really changed since its inception, consumers can take all of the feel-good advertising and associate it with one image.

When considering Pepsi, that isn’t the case, since the basic logo has changed so drastically over the years. So every time Pepsi releases a new feel-good campaign, consumers must connect it to a different image.

Bottom line: create a great logo and stick to it.  Create plenty of positive associations with your brand and you too can dominate your market.