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Is this the Demise of the Coca-Cola Brand in the United States?

Winning Brand Messaging: Coca Cola’s Hilltop Ad of 1971

You probably weren’t alive for this one, but may have heard the tune:

Coca-Cola made SO MANY sales because of that ad, yet watching it today- with no context- it would give you no inclination that it was a hit. Like, ballpark slam. This ad was so successful that the song was made into a single. And the single actually moved up the top of music charts! 

But what made it so special? When this ad aired civil rights protests, a youth disenchanted with companies and middle-class life, and a very unpopular war in Vietnam were all tearing the country apart (does some of this sound familiar?). 

The Coca-Cola Brand Capitalizes on Post WWII Nationalism

Prior to this, Coke had been pushing ads that celebrated American pride and strong post-war nationalism from WWII. But with the change in cultural climate, their brand messaging was really starting to lose traction- and fast. 

They took cultural events that were happening in America and created a utopian-type brand message that swaths of Americans were aching for at the time. They spun a myth that Americans found useful as a symbolic resource (drinking a coke =equality and tolerance) to patch up their identities as citizens (fighting an unjust war in Vietnam and living an unfulfilling nuclear life). 

Coke legitimately did a 180* turn from their brand messaging just a few years prior! From celebrating the proud post-war American life to living a life of peace and tolerance… AND WERE SUCCESSFUL!

If there’s one thing I have learned from the Coca-Cola brand, it’s that you can continue to reinvent yourself and be even more successful after losing momentum.

1979: Coca Cola’s Last Brand Messaging Around Hot Cultural Topics

Coca Cola would do this one more time with “Mean Joe Greene” in 1979 before completely losing the wind in it’s sails. In the ad, a small white boy follows the notoriously hulk-sized black “Mean Joe” after a football game. Ragged and tired, the Mean Joe dismissing the kid until the kid insists on him having his Coca-Cola. Mean Joe takes the bottle of coke, chugging it, and smiling. “Thanks kid,” he says, throwing the kid his jersey. This ad came during a time of racial strife and acted as a sort of racial healing for it’s time.

The one common thread among the two aforementioned ads and Coca-Cola’s rise to a household name during WWII is they all spoke on cultural issues and the identity myths we- as a culture at the time- deeply wished to be. We were proud Americans, winners of a war; we were tolerant and peace-loving Americans during a war we (overall) disagreed with; we were racially tolerant, despite the divide happening with jobs and in neighborhoods.

No hot cultural brand messages since then have been advertised. I believe they’ve been resting on the laurels of these wildly successful ad campaigns ever since… well… recently. 

Finally, Coca Cola creates some sort of brand messaging around cultural events again- but it’s not the same.

Coca-Cola may have finally produced an ad campaign that truly connects with a culture.

 But it isn’t really geared toward the United States.

For the FIFA Cup, Coca-Cola came out with their ad “Believing In Magic” which creates the idea that by drinking a bottle of Coke one could imbibe in the collective feelings of national solidarity for a winning soccer team.

It was great! Expat fans all over the globe shared how this ad brought them back to their home country, especially Argentinians after their win and unbelievable national celebration.

It was smart of Coca-Cola to advertise to the non-USA American demographic as the top consumers of Coke have become Central and South American countries.

Will this be Coca Cola’s Demise in the United States?

But it makes me wonder if the reign of Coca-Cola in the United States is disappearing for good. Has American culture departed so far away from the brand ethos of Coca-Cola that they can’t recover? Or is this a recovery strategy to take back the hearts of Americans again one day?

Does this leave space in the soda market for a small business to take over?  


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