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3 major debacles that Coca Cola overcame in the early years

With a consumption of over 1.9 billion units each day across the globe, Coca Cola is one of the most valuable brands in the world. Over the past 130 years, the brand has gained a name for itself being one of the foremost in terms of marketing and branding strategy.

Since its early days, Coca Cola showed strong marketing and promotional bend. They introduced the coupon system early on to promote buying through word of mouth. And also engaged in heavy advertising from the very beginning.

In this piece we will look at 3 particular cases where the company resorted to brilliant tactics to maneuver itself out of trouble.

The Cocaine Crisis in the early 1900s

Coca leaves were one of the major ingredients of the much loved drink. And the same was also used for making Cocaine. This led to strong concerns among drinkers that maybe there was cocaine in Coca Cola.

The management responded immediately with publication of studies which showed that the cocaine content was negligible, and they promoted the content by distributing pamphlets to the masses.

This somehow controlled the news from spreading into mass hysteria. They knew they had to modify their ingredients because the matter could blow out of proportion any day. So, they commissioned chemists to work on the recipe and remove cocaine altogether.

This was initiated in around 1902 and by 1905, they had succeeded in completely omitting the substance from their product.

Why do I think this was important to be highlighted?

This is so critical on the part of brands, to keep innovating and improving; to think ahead on issues which could affect their future and taking steps to upgrade, or evolve.

I think this is quite relevant today as so many food brands dominate our lifestyles. And we are getting affected by the foods that we eat. Increased awareness is leading to many consumers moving away from certain food brands. So, it has become unavoidable to change.

I am sure Coca Cola is looking at this too, and trying out different products through acquisitions. Lets see how these stalwarts deal with it in the near future.

The Copy Cats


The Coca Cola success inspired or enticed many people to enter the Cola business. Many of them were just imitators, who had no interest in building a name for themselves, and instead just made their brands sound similar to Coca Cola.

Can you believe it, some people even named themselves silly copy names like, “Koka Nola” or “Kokola”?

Coca Cola sued these guys for copyright infringement. But soon they realized, it doesn’t deter people from still picking up similar names. This was becoming a pain in the neck.

Coca Cola was doing all the advertising and popularizing the drink. But the competition was taking its sales by confusing the consumer.

So, they decided to deal with it for once and for all. They had to come up with a differentiator, a way by which all consumers would immediately be able to identify their brand.

Coca cola introduced its contours!


So, in 1915, they introduced the new design with contours, as against the old design with straight smooth sides. The moment one would hold the bottle, one would be able to identify the feel of the bottle and know that its the original Coke!

Brilliant, isn’t it?

It was such an innovation that in 1977, Coca Cola was granted a trademark registration on this, thus becoming one of the few packaging material in the world to have received a trademark status.

The World War 1 Sugar Crisis


The World War 1 had an adverse impact on the cola business.

Due to the participation in the war, the US government declared that it would ration its sugar supplies to be able to meet the demand for the army. This caused the sugar prices to shoot up.

For cola companies, this was lethal, as sugar was one of the key ingredients. Margins dried up and many companies went belly up. But Coca Cola somehow survived, with very low margins.

After the war was over, it was expected that the sugar prices would go down immediately. However, it went the other way and soon the prices shot up to 62 cents per kg.

The management at the Coca Cola company panicked and agreed to deal with the sugar suppliers at a fixed price of 62 cents per kg for an advance supply of 6 months worth of its stock.

The irony was that, as soon as the deal was signed, the sugar prices dropped to about a third of the agreed deal. Coca Cola was staring at a big crisis for itself. It would have to bleed for 6 months or more while its competition would grow stronger around it.

But Coca Cola being Coca Cola, they decided to take the bull by its horns and change the entire drinking habit for its consumers. Coca Cola launched a new campaign that promoted their drink to be had anytime of the year, as against Cola being labeled as a summer drink.

Their campaign read, “Thirst knows no season”.


Simple and brilliant, this campaign immediately caught the fancy of its audience, and consumption increased drastically even in the winter season. As a result, not only was the overpriced sugar gone, it also changed the entire was the drink was looked at for the next 100 years!!

There are a many more instances where Coca Cola left its competition far behind and its audience bedazzled with its brilliant marketing campaigns. But at the root of it all, lies these 3 instances where it showed the way for the future of the brand.

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