Coca-Cola: 125 Years

Lessons From Coke's Archivist

VP-Heritage Communications Phil Mooney on the Weirdest Ad Campaigns and More

By Published on .

"That's something like asking, 'which is your favorite child?'" quipped Phil Mooney, VP-heritage communications, when asked what advertising-related artifact is his favorite in Coke's mammoth collection. Mr. Mooney has directed Coca-Cola's archives department since 1977 and was instrumental in the creation of the World of Coca-Cola. He's also a fellow of the Society of American Archivists.

Phil Mooney
Phil Mooney

Here Mr. Mooney talks about Coke's first direct-mail campaign, how Coca-Cola became Coke, and the weirdest ad campaigns he's seen from the brand.

Ad Age : Some of Coca-Cola's earliest advertisements were things like calendars and bookmarks. Why?

Mr. Mooney: That was one of the keys to the early success of the product. Serving trays, tip trays, calendars, posters these were all things that had a very practical use for the primary outlet for Coca-Cola at the time, the soda fountain. And for consumers, everybody can use a bookmark; every lady can use a pocket mirror.

Asa Candler, who acquired the company from John Pemberton, the inventor, was an absolute genius at trying to think, 'What's the next thing that I could come up with that somebody might take home or use in their place of business?'

Ad Age : Did Coke tend to follow what was popular for the time period, in terms of media?

Mr. Mooney: Coke was definitely at the forefront of experimenting with new things. For instance, we were the first company to use couponing as a marketing tool [in 1887]. And by that I mean Candler would have people standing on the street corners of Atlanta handing out coupons that would entitle people to a free glass of Coca-Cola at the soda fountain. And he also had, even in this very early age, a direct-mail campaign where they would mail coupons to homeowners.

Ad Age : The ad budget has been tracked throughout history, starting out at $11,000 in 1892 and hitting $100,000 in 1901. Was it a lot of money for the period?

Mr. Mooney: Very much so. As a matter of fact, in 1912, we had our first million dollar advertising budget, and that was huge. People just weren't spending that kind of money on advertising at the time. Candler really believed that you had to advertise and you had to get your product out where the people were.

Ad Age : How have ad agencies factored into the company's history?

Mr. Mooney: D'Arcy was our agency of record from 1906 to 1956, which is really a long period of time. And D'Arcy's claim to fame was their expertise with print. Until the mid-1950s, that 's where we put most of our dollars. 1956 is when we made our advertising change and moved Coca-Cola from D'Arcy to McCann Erickson -- McCann Erickson being the cool new kid on the block who really understood this electronic medium called television. Today, obviously, it's a whole different ball game.

Ad Age : How has the role of the advertising executive within Coke evolved?

Mr. Mooney: We always had people who were really focused on the advertising. For instance, very early on we had a man named Samuel Candler Dobbs, (president from 1919-1922 and cousin of Asa Candler) who is recognized as being the father of 'truth in advertising.' Yes, there were marketing people who had the specific responsibility of the daily interactions with the agencies, but people at the top, people like [Asa and Samuel] Candler and Robert Woodruff (president 1923–1939, chairman 1939-1942, 1952-1954) were always behind the scenes making sure that advertising was relevant. Until 1980, when Roberto Goizueta became chairman, all of our chairmen came from marketing backgrounds.

Ad Age : It's a given today that Coca-Cola is Coke. But it wasn't always that way. Tell me about the Sprite Boy.

Mr. Mooney: Our consumers kept wanting to shorten the name. As a matter of fact, in some of our early advertising, we were very specific, we'd say, 'Please don't ask for it by nickname; ask for it by its full name.' Over time we found people were shortening it and asking for Coke rather than Coca-Cola. We had two choices: Let that go on and let somebody grab hold of that trademark or work to make it part of our trademark. So, they created this little character called the Sprite Boy. He was supposed to be like an elf or spirit. You never see his whole body. You only see his head or hands, typically, in the advertising. He was brought on to make the connection that Coke and Coca-Cola were terms that identified the same product. We started doing that in the early 1940s, so by 1945 we were actually able to trademark the term Coke.

Ad Age : Coca-Cola's history is also tied up with the history of Santa Claus. How did the brand influence the modern-day version of Santa?

Mr. Mooneyy: We had occasionally used Santa imagery in the 1920s. But in 1930 what [the company] really wanted to do was to see if we could link Coke with the holidays, because the winter months for soft drinks were a pretty dry period. In 1930 [we] used an artist, Fred Mizen, who was a well-known illustrator at the time, and he created an image of a department-store Santa Claus pausing from his job to have a Coke at the soda fountain. And that didn't quite make it. People didn't really react well to it. The next year, 1931, they used an artist, Haddon Sundblom, to create an image of the real Santa, and that 's where the campaign around Santa really begins for us. Most historians today will credit Sundblom as having helped create the modern image of what Santa Claus looks like. Not that he was the first to do it, but he did it so consistently.

Ad Age : We all know about the great ads. What about the not so great?

Mr. Mooney: One of them was a print campaign. We had this popular campaign, "Things Go Better with Coke." There was a print component to it as well, and there was one odd program we did as a part of that . We did a series called, "Things Would Have Been Better With Coke." It featured historical figures who had unhappy endings to their lives, like Julius Caesar and Marie Antoinette. The premise of the ad program was: If only Coke had been there, then maybe things might have turned out differently.

On the TV side, the one that comes to mind is one we did back in 1977 as part of the "Coke Adds Life" campaign. It was called "Involvement 2." I don't know if there ever was an "Involvement 1." Imagine a 60-second commercial that only showed a bottle of Coca-Cola for the entire 60 seconds and all of the other activity was sound in the background. The sound of clinking ice cubes in a glass; people playing sports like tennis; radios playing popular music; people at the beach complaining about how hot the sand was. It was all about how Coke was the perfect activity for all those activities, it was "involved" in them. But there was no movement in the ad itself.

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