The Coca-Cola logo is one of the most recognizable brand symbols in the world. Its history traces back to the late 19th century, and it’s a great study in consistent branding.
When you think of familiar logos, Coca-Cola often comes to mind. Since its start, the core design hasn’t changed much. Sure, it’s had a few tweaks here and there, but it’s mostly stayed the same. This just goes to show how sticking to a strong design can work wonders for a brand.
In this article we’re going to take a closer look at those tweaks and changes. We’ll break down each shift the logo has seen over the years. Even with its changes, the Coca-Cola logo’s simple style and clear design have made it stand out. It’s a good lesson in why some things don’t need constant reinvention.
It all started in Atlanta in 1886
Coca-Cola started in a pretty simple way. Back in 1886, a man named Dr. John S. Pemberton, who was a pharmacist in Atlanta, mixed up a new drink. He wasn’t aiming to make a world-famous soda; he just wanted to create a tonic for headaches and fatigue.
They started selling the drink at a local soda fountain, for about five cents a glass. At first, it was just another drink among many, but people liked it. From these humble beginnings in a local pharmacy, Coca-Cola began its journey to becoming the global icon we know today.
According to non-official records (the Coca-Cola Company does not mention this design in its official history), the first Coca-Cola logo was a pretty standard serif that served the company in its early days, from 1886. Frank M. Robinson, Pemberton’s bookkeeper, suggested the name, emphasizing that the pairing of the two C’s would enhance its appeal in advertising.
Robinson further developed the words in a unique flowing script, which is now known as the Spencerian script. This was a popular writing style in the United States during the late 19th century, serving as the standard handwriting for business correspondence before the introduction of typewriters.
1890-1891: A Short-Lived Makeover
In the early stages of Coca-Cola’s branding evolution, the year 1890 marked a significant but brief shift in taste. Instead of the recognizable Spencerian script, the logo for this period showed a very decorative style, bearing little resemblance to the signature flow of later logos.
The design was characterized by two identical C letters with spiral-like shapes, decorated with bells and swirls. An additional logo (again, non-confirmed by Coca-Cola) appeared around the same time and it was used on calendars and promotional material. It remains uncertain why the company opted for this dramatic change. However, by 1892, Coca-Cola reverted to the iconic logo we recognize today, and this 1890-1891 design stands as a testament to the company’s early branding explorations.
Back to the Spencerian Script.. in Red
After the brief makeover with bells and swirls Coca-Cola decided to go back to its most recognisable logo in the spencerian script. By this time though, the company had started exporting via boats, and this led to a curious change in their branding.
The company needed to differentiate itself from others that were shipping their beverages on boats, notably.. booze producers. To make it easier for tax agents at customs, Coca-Cola started painting their syrup barrels in Red, and started being associated with that color, which is still an essential part of their branding today. As for typography, around that time, the first “C” acquired its “fish tale”.
Coca-Cola Earns its Trademark in 1892
On January 31 1892, the Coca-Cola logo eventually earned its official stamp of approval from the U.S. Patent Office. If you look closely, nestled within the swoop of the first “C”, you’ll spot the words “Trade mark”.
From this moment on, and for the next 50 years, nothing much changed in the logo of the beverage company. The drink was slowly affirming itself and business was growing.
Coca-Cola Gets Bold in 1903
In 1903 the stability of the Spencerian Script is tested again, and the result is much closer to the logo we know today. This time the company did not try any major changes, but opted for a bold one.
It’s at this point that the typography becomes bolder, while the width of letters and spacing between them is reduced. The logo suddenly starts looking like the one we know today. The company was careful in adapting the logo, while preserving its look and feel. This proved to be a wise decision, as the stability of the branding and the firmness of its identity kept the company afloat during world-wide troubled times in the first half of 1900.
1940s-60s: a Red Background
By the time the 1940s rolled around, the Coca-Cola logo had cemented its identity. But when it comes to color, indeed, something interesting happened: a red background was introduced, and a white logo replaced the black one. This gave the logo a bold and attention-grabbing appearance, while making it stand out on advertisements, store shelves, and coolers. It evoked the perfect feelings in consumers: excitement, passion, and warmth.
These bold changes in the color palette materialised in two new symbols for the company. The first, the Coca Cola Red Disk, appeared in 1947 and was an instant success. The red disk included the white logo on top of the Coca Cola bottle. It was very popular for signage and posters, and is a beloved vintage prop still around today. The second masterstroke of Coca-Cola’s branding was the “Fishtail Sign” unveiled in 1958, about 10 years after the Red Disk. This sign resembling the silhouette of a fish was used on vending machines, paper communication, copy and cartoons, adding to the strength of the brand.
The Introduction of the Dynamic Ribbon Device, 1969
The 1969 introduction of the “Arden Square logo” marked a crucial phase in Coca-Cola’s visual journey. The design featured the iconic Coca-Cola script within a red square, underscored by the white ‘Dynamic Ribbon Device’, a white wave that remains in use today.
The ribbon’s significance grew by 1969, emphasizing Coca-Cola’s motion, refreshment, and distinctiveness. Reflecting the global cultural shifts of the 1960s, this design resonated with contemporary aesthetics while upholding the brand’s historical essence. Today, despite various tweaks, the logo’s core elements – script, red background, and white ribbon – remain integral to Coca-Cola’s branding.
The 80s and Diet Coke
The use of silver and a distinct typeface underscored its low-calorie proposition, setting it apart from the classic red branding of the original Coca-Cola. Over the years, the Diet Coke logo has undergone refinements, but its inception in 1982 symbolized Coca-Cola’s adaptability to changing consumer preferences and market trends.
The Rivalry with Pepsi, and the infamous 80s Cola Wars
While the Coca Cola logo might not have changed much during all those years, the competition in the beverage industry became more and more fierce. The main competitor of Coca Cola, Pepsi, was gaining more and more traction, thanks to constant reinvention and marketing campaigns targeted to a younger audience.
In the midst of this intense competition in the 1980s, Coca-Cola made a risky decision to change its original formula. This decision resulted in the introduction of “New Coke” in April 1985. The company stated that they were trying to revitalize the brand and respond to changing consumer tastes.
They also revamped their branding to emphasize the novelty of the product. The iconic Coca-Cola script was retained, but the word “NEW” was prominently placed above it to underscore the new formula. In many marketing materials, the term “Coke” was accentuated, emphasizing the popular nickname over the full “Coca-Cola” branding.
However, the public’s response was overwhelmingly negative. Many loyal Coca-Cola drinkers expressed their disapproval and even began hoarding cases of the old formula. The backlash was so strong that just a few months later, in July 1985, the company announced it would bring back the original formula under the name “Coca-Cola Classic.” This return was met with relief and celebration by many fans of the beverage.
Christmas & Coca-Cola as a Family Drink
Coca-Cola, from its early days, has positioned itself not just as a beverage, but as a symbol of shared experiences and togetherness. Over the years, the company’s marketing strategies have reinforced the idea of Coca-Cola as a drink that bridges generational gaps and brings families together.
This strategy to position Coca-Cola as the family drink (opposed to Pepsi, the drink of the younger generation) started early on in the history of the company. A famous example is how Coca-Cola’s advertising campaigns in the 1930s played a crucial role in shaping the modern image of Santa Claus. At the time, the company hired Haddon Sundblom, a commercial artist, to develop images of Santa for their winter promotions.
Sundblom’s depiction of a jolly, rotund, and rosy-cheeked Santa enjoying a Coke became iconic. This warm and friendly version of Santa Claus resonated deeply with families and associated Coca-Cola with the festive spirit of giving, joy, and family togetherness. So if you are asking yourself “did Coca-Cola invent Santa”, the answer is no. But the way we imagine him today is much shaped by the way Coca-Cola has depicted him over the decades.
Besides Santa and his image, one of the most iconic and anticipated Christmas commercials is the “Holidays Are Coming” advertisement featuring lit-up Coca-Cola trucks driving through snowy landscapes and towns. The twinkling trucks and the heartwarming music are emblematic of the approaching holiday season, and for many, Christmas begins when they first see this ad on TV. It’s a reminder of family gatherings, gift-giving, and festive cheer, and Coca-Cola is at the heart of these celebrations.
A Celebration of Consistency: the Coca-Cola logo Today
Today, the Coca-Cola logo stands as a testament to the power of consistent branding and the enduring appeal of simple yet iconic design. Retaining its foundational elements from over a century ago, the logo features the familiar Spencerian script, often accompanied by the “Dynamic Ribbon Device.”
While it has seen subtle refinements over the decades, its core design remains largely unchanged, underscoring its timeless appeal. In a rapidly changing digital age, where brands frequently adapt their identities, the Coca-Cola logo remains a beacon of brand recognition globally. Its consistency not only evokes nostalgia but also symbolizes trust, making it one of the most recognizable and beloved logos in the world.
Creative Takes on the Coca-Cola Logo
Coca-Cola is a brand that defines our time, a company that has always been with us – it is a defining symbol of the times we live in. No wonder then that there is so much amazing artwork out there inspired by the Coca Cola logo. Step into our meticulously curated gallery, where creativity seamlessly intertwines with the enduring charm of the Coca-Cola brand. Each piece pays homage to the iconic Coca-Cola logo, offering a distinctive perspective that captures the essence of different eras. Immerse yourself in the diverse and captivating works on display, transcending time with each unique creation.