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The Coca Cola Company has earned the distinctive privilege of owning probably the world’s most widely recognized brand. Whether written in a serif font, script or a completely different language, there is no mistaking the look and feel of that logo. While it has morphed into various iterations throughout its lifetime, there is a classic quality to this logo that has never gone away, a timeless trait which has no doubt helped the company build the global brand recognized by billions today.
The story of this famous logo begins in Atlanta, Georgia. John Pemberton had just perfected the final recipe for the soft drink in his backyard. Unsure what he should call the new concoction, Pemberton was in a bit of a jam. After all, a name can make or break a brand and he wanted to get it right. If he had invented the formula today, he would likely have hired an ad agency or design studio to brainstorm some concepts. But since this was the 1800’s - a prolific age for do it yourselfers; he turned to a less likely source of inspiration - his bookkeeper Frank Robinson.
Yes it’s true, the world’s most famous brand name was not created by a designer or think tank, but a number cruncher, albeit an exceptionally creative one who had a natural knack for advertising and a small printing press to show for it. “Coca Cola” was the first and only name he proposed, stating “the two C’s would look well in advertising”. Pemberton took an instant shine to the name and in 1886 he would use it to advertise his beverage in local newspapers. At this point no logo existed so they opted for a very simple and unassuming serif font.
Fast forward one year later, and Coca Cola was enjoying exponential popularity; not just in Georgia, but throughout the nation. The time had come to build a proper logo for the brand. Once again Pemberton turned to his trusted bookkeeper. As it turns out, Frank’s excellent penmanship skills would pay off in the form of the scripty logo that we are all familiar with.
The astute amongst you may notice the lack of a registration symbol on this logo. At this point in its lifespan, the brand had not yet been registered at the patent office. The trademark would not be officially granted for a few more years. Of course by this point, various iterations of the logo existed in their crude forms. Lacking the modern tooling we take for granted today, many different artists would ended up recreating the logo by hand, giving it a rough and generally inconsistent look.
On January 31, 1893 Coca Cola was granted its first trademark from the patent office. From that day onward, the brand would appear with the words TRADE MARK underneath.
In 1903 the words “trademark registered” began to appear in the swooping tail of the letter C. This was in accordance with a new law that required companies to re-register their trademarks. In the mid 1920s the word “DRINK” would also appear above the logo in much of their signage and adverts
In 1941 the trademark notification was moved from the tail of the “C” and was centered underneath the words “Coca-Cola”. Although the mandate was for the notification to read “Reg. U. S. Pat. Off.” - the notification can be found with several different variations.
Beginning in the early 1950’s the trademark designation had been simplified to “Trade-mark ®” and began to be used on some items. It wasn’t until about 1962 that this usage became common practice.
Another common visual treatment was the placement of the logo inside a red circle, with a portrait of the now iconic coke bottle behind it. Anyone who has been to a 1950s stye diner has no doubt seen one of these on the wall.
The famous script logo was placed in an Arciform shape, known as the fishtail logo. It became so popular that many stores, shops and restaurants would proudly display metal signs in order to attract more traffic and business.
In late 1969 Coca-Cola introduced a new brand logo featuring a design element dubbed the Arden Square. The red square featured a classic Coca-Cola logo and what is known as the Dynamic Ribbon device. The new design was used in all publication materials along with the product itself. The word “Drink” above Coca-Cola was also replaced with the word “Enjoy”.
For the first time in its history, Coca Cola was no longer the most popular soft drink. By this point Pepsi’s popularity and sales had surpassed their own and the company was in full damage control mode. In response the company changed its formula and launched a bold new brand, snubbing its script logo in favor of a thick slab serif font to accompany their rebrand as Coke.
Despite the best of intentions, New Coke was a total flop. There was a huge backlash from customers, many of them boycotting the brand until the company restored the classic Coca Cola formula they had grown to love over the years. The company did decide to keep the a modified version of Bold Coke logo throughout some other countries.
Given no choice but to listen to their American customer base, the company brought back the formula and logo that had been invented exactly one century earlier. Aside from adding the word “classic” underneath, the famed ribbon graphic was integrated further into the script itself, intersecting with the “o” in Cola.
The company did not want to completely scrap the work done on the Coke logo tiself, so they modernized it a bit, opting for a visual marriage between the italic slant of the script, and a more streamlined serif font to match the overall look. They also added a bit of dimension to the ribbon with an underlying wave in a pale silver. While not as prevalent in the US, this logo is still used in certain countries to this day.
In a throwback to their 1950s design, and in tandem with their famous Polar Bear spots aired on Christmas, Coca Cola brought back the circular logo with the bottle in it. While not used on the products it became a popular motif for corporate and retail advertising. The only difference from the older version was the addition of “ALWAYS” in an arc above the logo.
In late 2002 a more nuanced ribbon graphic began to appear on Coke products. While it varied from country to country, the new look featured a number of ribbons in various grades of transparency, along with the bold addition of a yellow ribbon, breaking away from the company’s long held adherence to their red and white palette.
A more stark, minimal version of the classic red disc was reintroduced for corporate/retail purposes. The absence of slogans or the Coke bottle behind the script really helped to establish the brand itself as the focal point of the logo.
Hot off the heels of the success of their previous campaign, the company opted for a more streamlined approach to the classic logo. All slogans, trademarks and additional graphics have been eschewed in favor of the script, ribbon and a simple ® trademark symbol
So there you have in a nutshell, the evolution of Coca Cola’s logo. It’s amazing how the creative vision of two people can create something so globally ubiquitous. And it’s even more telling that, despite how many visual remixes it’s undergone, the essence of the brand has remained the same over the span of a century.
Fine Print Art is an educational independent research publication. The above content has not been officially sponsored by Coca Cola Company.