Did Coca-Cola give value & meaning to the word ‘brand’ taught at business schools or was it vice versa? Coca-Cola turned out to be the biggest teacher in the world of business, yet no student or scholar has been able to crack its code
Michael Banerjee, Opinion@The Hush Post: Since the latter-half of the last century, every second someone thought of Coca-Cola or uttered the word Coca-Cola or Coke.
Before Google and Facebook, the biggest brand America had sold to the world was Coca-Cola, the carbonated drink, the second by a distance of light years was the Denim jeans. The river of Coca-Cola hasn’t stopped flowing since the last 133 years and continues to. It’s consumed everywhere, from the seven-star hotels of the US to the slums of South Asia and Africa.
What made Coca-Cola the brand? To cut the long story short it occupied the vacant space, the crevices and gaps in the markets across the world. Nobody made it a brand. Coca-Cola, the product made the theory called brand, much used and abused in business studies. It gave the value to the English word ‘brand.’ The word brand only got its positive value courtesy Coca-Cola.
Go to any paan or provision store in India, Bangladesh and one is likely to find a huge refrigerator, bigger than the space many in the third world countries don’t get to call their home. And that too bought without spending a penny. That’s how powerful the Coca-Cola gift to its retail dealers is.
When it comes to regular Cola, now mostly known by the name of Coke, it occupies the throne.
Many call it the alcohol of the sober. Close in on Coke is its sister Pepsi. The market share of the both is almost equal. But as far as the drink is concerned Coke takes the cake.
In the last one decade, Coke’s market share has gone up from 17.3 per cent to 17.8 per cent. On the other hand Pepsi’s has dropped from 10.3 per cent to 8.4 per cent, according to Beverage Digest, a trade publication.
But what’s there in it for the consumers?
Coca-Cola (Coke) has a vanilla taste it gets from vanillan chemical, while Pepsi has a more citrus flavour. Pepsi is less carbonised compared with Coke, since it contains less CO2. Which means that Coca-Cola drinks are more fizzy than Pepsi. Coca-Cola was first prepared in 1886 in Georgia. Pepsi is younger by seven years and was born in 1893 in North Carolina. Pepsi is slightly sweeter than Coke.
Coke or Pepsi?
Most people prefer Coke over Pepsi. But the numbers could get confusing. If one has a look at sales, Pepsi seems to be ahead of Coke. But that’s Pepsi as a company, so one has to keep in mind that Pepsi and Coke both sell other products.
However, if you check out their annual net income, Coke has been ahead of Pepsi every year since 2004 except in 2006. Coke also exceeds Pepsi on the social media front.
Just as people know Sunder Pichai because of Google, in the early 1990s, outside America people knew Warren Buffet only because he had invested in Coca-Cola.
In this day and age, Google or Facebook never go to sleep. There are tens of lakhs of geeks, netizens on it 24/7. This is how Coca-Cola was and still is. Tens of lakhs of Coca-Cola bottles or cans were either in someone’s hands or were about to be bought or were being sipped or ingested every second. From manufacturing units to being transported to shops to customers, the republic of Coca-Cola was everywhere from the US to Ghana.
Till the advent the of internet, since Google, Facebook aTwitterter came along, Coke was the numero uno. In terms of volumes, it still is the amazon among commodities.
What did it do differently?
Coca Cola occupied the empty space, though, never wished it, just did it. Those were the times when there were less shops, less products. And Coke filled the gap — it was a drink, it was a juice, it was food, it also boosted the sugar levels of the diabetic patients during sudden spurts of low sugar. It was all-in-all. So much so that mineral waters brands got the idea of floating mineral water brands about 100 years after Coca Cola and only after medical professionals raised concern over the over-consumption of the drink and its ill-effects on our health.
In the world of business, Coke is a teacher, albeit an accidental teacher. After its success, people in the business world studied its journey tracing its backward chain and introduced books upon books on how to build a brand.
And the books said wise things about how to build brands in the hindsight much like economists explained the recession story each time there was one. Just like people didn’t question economists on why couldn’t they predict the recession beforehand to save us all if they knew so much, similarly, someone wise could ask, perhaps should ask the brand experts, if you know so much on how to build a brand why don’t you make another Coke.
The answer is that the hindsight is a very good sight.
By the way Coke did none of the brand building exercises on how to build one’s brand– thing suggested in books written by experts like research your target audience and your competitor, choose your business name, write your slogan, choose the look of your brand (colors and font), design your logo and apply your branding across your business and evolve it as you grow.
As we have said earlier, the word ‘brand’ got its value only after a hindsight study of the Coca Cola.
The history of Coca-Cola
Coca-Cola was made by a pharmacist named John Pemberton, also known as Doc. He fought in the Civil War, and towards the end of the war, he decided he wanted to invent something that would bring him success.
Everything he made as a pharmacist failed. He invented drugs, but none of them ever made money. That is when Pemberton decided to try his hand at a beverage. In his time, the soda fountain was rising in popularity at social gatherings. Sobriety was keeping patrons out of bars, so making a soda-fountain drink just made sense. And that is how Coca-Cola was born.
Pemberton died soon after. And Coca Cola became kind of orphan but a valuable one.
After Pemberton’s death, a man named Asa Griggs Candler rescued the business. In 1891, he became the sole owner of Coca-Cola. He asked salesmen to sell free Coke. His goal was to see people appreciate the drink. And they did it. And still do.
Even in 2018, as the seconds’ needle of a clock ticks, there is someone in this world who thinks or utters the word Coca-Cola probably more than someone says Jesus or Allah.