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Coca Cola: 132 Years in Marketing

“If I do it, I will not fail,” I told Pamela forcefully

That's Neville Isdell. The guy famously known for turning the ship around during the darkest days.

He was in enjoying his retirement when Coca-Cola's board reached out and asked him to re-join the company.

"When you evaluate the tenure of a CEO, you need to look at two things: the value of the company compared with when that CEO took over and—much more important—the value two or three years after the CEO leaves."

That's Muhtar Kent when asked whether he deserved the $24 million pay package Coke gave me. He succeeded Neville as CEO of Coca Cola.

This is a good takeaway. When you join a company, you need to do a before/after comparison. How well has the company fared after hiring you?

Why write about Coca-Cola? It's not a SaaS.

Coca-Cola is one of the oldest companies in the world. It spends roughly 5 billion dollars on advertising each year.

I can argue that their entire product is marketing-first. There's no growth tactic that Coca Cola hasn't used, including PLG.

Why is called Coca-Cola?

The founder thought that two Cs would be better for branding.

There are a few other brands that use alliteration.

  • PayPal

  • Krispy Kreme

  • Best Buy

It's just easier on the mind and is sonically pleasing.

So, when you're building a mass-market product, alliteration might be of help.

I can't think of a single product in SaaS that uses alliteration. Can you?

Advertising and market share

If Coca-cola doesn't advertise, the market share will drop. Worse yet, people will stop consuming sugary beverages due to health reasons so they need to market. There's a direct correlation.

Coca-Cola's Go-To-Market Strategies

As a challenger brand, your number one motto should be to beat the market leader. Pepsi's motto when Alfred Steele was CEO was "Beat Coke". Coke's motto on the other hand was to remain the market leader. That's why their ads were about "Preferred Taste" or "No Wonder Coke Refreshes Best".

In markets where Coca-Cola was a challenger brand, such as India, they took aggressive measures to acquire market share. Instead of relying solely on marketing, Coca-Cola bought all Thums Up bottles from distributors and then approached the manufacturers, offering to pay twice what Thums Up could. Unable to meet market demand, the Thums Up owner had no choice but to sell the brand to Coca-Cola for $60M.

Getting out when growth is stagnant

No company is going to have great days all the time. There are going to be mountains to climb and valleys to survive.

When Coca-Cola saw stagnant days, this is what they did:

We brought in people from all over the world—the top 400 people in the company—to talk about how we had got into this position and how we were going to get out [double growth in 10 years]. We started working more closely with our bottling partners. We put a stop to all those internal meetings. We put new people in place. And we stabilized the company.


Coke could very well enter into the alcoholic beverage market but chooses not to.

In the next 10 years some 800 million to 1 billion people around the world will move into the middle class—the biggest urbanization the world has known. That translates into on-the-go lifestyles, which means significant demand for nonalcoholic, ready-to-drink beverages. This is such a beautiful business. Why would I want to lose focus?

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