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Coca-Cola ads: 8 of its most memorable campaigns

By Emma Mulcahy, Staff writer

May 23, 2019 | 7 min read

Coca-Cola was invented in the late 19th century and continues to dominate the food and drink industry today as the most popular soft drink in the world.

Coca- Cola

Coca- Cola

Over the course of its long history Coke has been responsible for a host of memorable ad campaigns. Not everything has gone entirely to plan though, as the brand amusingly acknowledged this week with a clever reprisal of its flop 1985 New Coke campaign as part of a tie-in with Netflix hit Stranger Things.

Here the Drum looks back on some of the most memorable campaigns in Coca- Cola's advertising history.

‘Hilltop’ (1971)

Kicking off with the most iconic Coca-Cola ad, this 1971 spot depicted a diverse band of people gathering on a hilltop, singing together. The ad featured The New Seeker's track, 'I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing', which became instantly synonymous with Coke. Despite modern-day viewers finding the ad somewhat uncool, even in some cases drawing parallels with the ill-fated Kendall Jenner Pepsi ad of 2017, it remains highly significant to the Coca-Cola brand.

The ad also remains something of a pop culture touchstone thanks to being featured in the closing moments of the Mad Men finale in 2015. While taking part in hilltop yoga, the show's protagonist Don Draper has an advertising epiphany that seemingly leads to the production of the definitive Coca-Cola commercial. This was an unpaid reference for the drinks brand in the popular TV series.

'Holidays are coming' (1995- present day)

Opening with the signature tinkling of sleigh bells and a brightly lit truck, this ad is recognizable from the moment it starts. A holiday time staple, the ad first ran in 1995 has since been credited with being the official herald of Christmas for many consumers. Coca-Cola has always cultivated an association with the festive period from as far back as its early ads of the 1930s, but it is this one which has most successfully forged a connection between the brand and Christmas. For many of us, its snowy scenes, atmospheric music, and excited children encapsulate the essence of the holiday spirit.

Until very recently the ad had centered only around Coke classic but in 2018 the Christmas campaign instead focused its efforts on Coke Zero to appeal to a younger market and satisfy laws around sugar content.

The Polar Bowl (2012)

The Coca-Cola polar bears have been a frequent feature in the brand's advertising campaigns since as early as 1993, but in 2012 they were the perfect vehicle for brand innovation.

Coca- Cola landed a coveted spot during the Super Bowl XLVI half-time, yet was not limited by the parameters of the TV slot. Instead its ad, which focused on a group of polar bears watching the game and taking part in their own version of football, extended its reach online. Understanding the prevalence of second screens for viewers of the Super Bowl that year, viewers were encouraged to visit where they could watch the polar bears react and interact with the game in real time. On top of this, marketers at Coca-Cola also staged a polar bears takeover of the brand's Twitter account.

The creative was produced by Wieden + Kennedy Portland.

'Uplifted Alex' (2017)

Similarly, Coca-Cola pushed the boundaries of ads yet again in its sponsorship of the virtual star of Fifa 2018 Alex Hunter. The spot shows a defeated-looking Hunter leaving the pitch when he is approached by a young fan and encouraged to cheer up, over a can of Coke Zero.

Many marketers have cottoned onto the usefulness of influencers and we have even seen brands revive past cultural icons for the purpose of advertising. Yet Coca-Cola's sponsorship of a fictional videogame character demonstrated a foray into different territory while remaining ahead of the curve in investing in eSports. This association with the Fifa game helped to demonstrate the viability of video games as a marketing space.

‘Coke Factory’ (2006)

This slightly longer than usual ad signaled a departure from Coca-Cola's typical advertising style, with a move into animation. However, it allowed the brand to explore its more creative side, imagining the inner workings of a vending machine after the consumer's coin is inserted. The ad features a whole host of weird and whimsical creatures that combine efforts in making the perfect bottle of Coke.

The creative was realized by agency Wieden + Kennedy Amsterdam.

Diet Coke x Jean Paul Gaultier (2012)

In an effort to modernize and diversify the appeal of Diet Coke, the soft drink retailer has curated a history of co-branding opportunities with a number of high profile fashion designers including Karl Lagerfeld, Robert Cavalli, and Marc Jacobs.

However, it was the product's 2012 pairing with French designer Jean Paul Gaultier that resulted in some of the most striking designs, as well as memorable creative campaigns. These included a photo shoot with British model Daisy Lowe, modeling the Diet Coke bottle design, and a number of eye-catching ads featuring puppets. A far cry from the brand's widely slated later 'Because I can' ads...

'History of Celebration' (2010)

Coca- Cola has enjoyed a long sponsorship of the Fifa World Cup tournament and has produced a number of highly effective ad campaigns around the sporting spectacle.

Chief among these is its emotionally compelling spot for the 2010 South Africa tournament which featured Cameroonian footballing legend Roger Milla. Looking back on the retired star's iconic 1990 World Cup goal celebration, the brand tracks the way in which Milla's dance celebration went onto to influence the celebrations of other footballers across the world. The combination of that year's World Cup track 'Wavin Flag' with footage of ecstatic footballers after scoring a goal for their national team conveyed the brand's message of unity and friendship. This message is underpinned nicely with the ad's closing strapline: 'Coca- Cola: Open Happiness'.

'Share a Coke' (2011)

First piloted in Australia to drive brand awareness among young consumers, Coca- Cola's 'Share a coke' ad campaign quickly grew to become one of the brand's most recognizable international drives.

Coca- Cola: 'Share a Coke with...'

The campaign slogan was built upon Coca- Cola's long-cultivated image of being a brand rooted in friendship and bringing people together. The campaign kicked off with the simple activation of placing the most popular Australian names on Coke bottles to drive sales and lead to social conversation around the soft drink. The campaign proved a success Down Under and soon spread to the rest of the world. This small activation led to the beverage giant launching a number of innovative brand experiences for consumers, including specially designed twist tops that required another bottle to open them.

This ad campaign was born from a simple concept produced by Sydney's Ogilvy & Mather.

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