How Coca Cola took over the world – take two

How Coca Cola took over the world – take two




My new book of stories “How Coca Cola took over the world…and 100 more amazing stories about the world’s greatest brands” will be published in April. The story behind the title tells one tale of how Coke celebrated its worldwide fame. This is a different story but on a related theme – so as the brand might say itself “enjoy”

And the walls came tumbling down


Robert Woodruff, former chair of The Coca-Cola Company set out a vision in 1923 that Coca-Cola should always be ‘within an arm’s reach of desire’.
In the following decades and even throughout the Second World War Coke became ubiquitous across most of this little planet of ours. However, there were still places the brand couldn’t and didn’t reach.

coke berlin 2

On November 9th 1989, a new territory was added to the Coke world as the Berlin Wall came tumbling down. Amongst the thousands of pictures taken in the following hours and days there is one that shows two men heaving cartons of Coca-Cola bottles over the wall.


coke berlinOne of the men pictured was Paul-Gerhard Ritter. He was managing director of the Coca-Cola bottler in Lichterfelde.

It was a particularly poignant moment for Ritter. He had originally come from the East. He attended a school in the GDR until he was eight, moving with his family to West Berlin in 1957, four years before construction of the wall began.

So, whether he just wanted to celebrate the momentous occasion, to take advantage of a wonderful PR opportunity or to combine the two thoughts is not known, but he clearly realised that the Cold War was coming to an end and a new era was starting.

As soon as he heard that the wall was coming down, he ordered three trucks to be filled with Coca-Cola and driven to Kudamm where the East Berliners were now crossing the border.

Within two hours of their arrival, the three trucks were empty and many new arrivals duly refreshed.
In the first week after the fall of the Wall, two million people drank a toast to freedom with a Coke. By March 1990 Coca-Cola Erfrischungsgetränke GmbH was set up as a separate company in East Germany.

Go west young man

Go west young man


Seeing what other couldn’t see, risking your life savings and self-inflicting cuts and burns – have you got what it takes to be an innovator?
Robert Chesebrough had.
chesebroughRobert Chesebrough was British chemist who worked distilling the oil form sperm whales into lighting fuel, but recognised that time was running out for whale oil and the future lay in petroleum.
So he used his life savings and like other young men in the mid-19th century he ‘went west’, buying a ticket to the USA where he ended up in Titusville, Pennsylvania.

One day while touring one of the oil fields there, he noticed a rigger scraping a thick, dark goo from an oil pump’s joint. He asked what it was.

At first, it sounded like just an unwanted and potentially hazardous by-product. The wax-like gunk tended to come up with the crude oil and would collect on the rigging; if it wasn’t cleaned off regularly, it would gum up the works. The riggers called it “rod wax”.

However the riggers weren’t finished yet they went onto tell Robert that many of them used it on cuts and burns because it helped them heal quicker.

Robert was intrigued and he saw what might be a big opportunity. Rod wax was an un-valued by-product, something that was thrown away, if he could turn into something with real value then the potential margin was going to large.

He easily persuaded the riggers to let him have some of the wax and took it away to start experimenting on it.

It would take him several years but in the end, he discovered that by distilling the lighter, thinner oil products from the rod wax, he could create a light-colored gel. His later patented process involved vacuum distillation of the crude material followed by filtration of the still residue through bone char.

Now all he had to do was persuade people that it was worth having.


He started travelling around New York selling his Vaseline, a name that combined the German word for water and the Greek word for oil.

While being odourless and colourless meant it had obvious benefits over alternatives like lard, goose grease, olive oil and garlic oil, which were often rank and smelly, he needed to show that it actually worked.

So as part of his sales pitch he started using himself as a guinea pig, cutting himself or burning his skin with acid or an open flame, then spreading the ointment on his injuries and showing his past injuries healed, he claimed, by his miracle salve.

People were convinced and started to buy the product. Soon pharmacists were asking to stock it and in 1870, Robert opened his first factory.

While it is still used for cuts and burns it is also regularly used on dry and unruly hair, new uses which even Robert might not have thought of have emerged. It is used on the feet of vending machines to keep pests out and some farmers put it on chickens to prevent frostbite.

Quick wit, the indispensable ingredient in good PR

Quick wit, the indispensable ingredient in good PR

bovril jar


Many brand managers like to think their brand is indispensable and some even claim it for their ‘babies’.


One such brand manager was John Lawson Johnson, who was not only the first brand manager, but also the original inventor of Bovril.

By trade he was a butcher but had studied chemistry at Edinburgh University and liked to experiment in food preservation. The result, a combination of meat and science, was what he originally called Johnson’s Fluid Beef.

It was later renamed Bovril, another combination of meat – Bos, the Latin for Ox and science – Vril, a word meaning energy force.

He liked to claim that this hearty nourishing drink was an indispensable part of a healthy diet.
One day, he was taken to task by a journalist, who asked him, how if Bovril was so indispensable had all previous generations managed to survive without it?

He quickly and simply replied that they hadn’t – they were all dead.

The ideal husband – How to win a lady’s heart with a bowl of custard

The ideal husband – How to win a lady’s heart with a bowl of custard


With Valentine’s Day fast approaching, what are you planning for your special one?
A card at least I hope, but maybe a bunch of flowers, a bottle of champagne or maybe a romantic dinner for two?
But how would your partner react if you gave them a bowl of custard? Yes, custard that sweet yellow dessert sauce we pour over crumble and pies.
Well if you were Mrs. Elizabeth Bird, you would be delighted.
abird2Now the exact date in 1837 on which Alfred Bird presented a bowl of custard to his wife is not known, but whenever it was it clearly won him some serious brownie points.
Elizabeth had persistent digestive problems and suffered severe reactions, to eggs, and yeast-based products. Now this was bad enough but she was a lover of custard and even knowing the consequences simply couldn’t resist the stuff.
Alfred Bird had qualified as a Fellow of the Chemists Society and set up a shop in Birmingham’s Bell Street selling household medicines and toiletries. Business was good, but Alfred wasn’t satisfied and every night, after the shop closed, he indulged his passion for experimental chemistry. The task he set himself was to find a way to help his wife enjoy the foods she loved.
He began a quest for an egg-free custard and finally, after many late nights, he developed a recipe for a new custard powder based on cornflour.
birds no eggs

His wife was delighted but soon too were some friends of the Birds’, when they were introduced to it by mistake.
The story goes that it was “accidentally” fed to some of Elizabeth and Alfred’s guests at a dinner party. Seeing their re-action Alfred realised that perhaps there was more to his invention that just a happier wife.
Bird’s Powdered Custard was born, and lives on successful to this day.


AlfredBirdBakingPowderA few years later Alfred proved what an ideal husband he was again, when in 1843 came up with a yeast substitute which at first was called ‘’Bird’s Fermenting Powder’’ but was quickly renamed “Baking Powder’’. It not only helped people like Elizabeth who had a yeast allergy but was used widely to help people bake lighter bread, cakes and pastries.
It too was, and is still a success.

When you want a bike that looks more like a TV

When you want a bike that looks more like a TV


VanMoof was started by two Dutch brothers, based in Amsterdam, who wanted to develop the kinds of bikes that got people from A to B, without any fuss. According to their website they are “a team of riders, designers, dreamers and doers united by one goal: to help you get around your city faster, smarter, happier, and in utmost style”.

Take for example their Electrified S bike, which they describe as ‘Smart, Sleek and Superpowered’. Its powerful motor is so quiet that most people wouldn’t know it was an electric bike, unless you told them. It’s one of the lightest electric bikes on the market, weighing just 18.4kg. It also has a number of smart features built in, including its own smartphone app and an anti-theft tracking device designed to make bike theft a thing of the past.
Now imagine after all the sell, the ordering, the expectation, finally your new bike is delivered to your door. You rush to open it …and it’s damaged.
“Anyone in the ecom world knows you’re only as good as your shipping partner,” wrote VanMoof creative director Bex Rad. “Your covetable products, your frictionless website, your killer brand—they all count for nothing when your delivery partner drops the ball.”
For eight years they kept trying new shipping partners but, disappointingly, the results were consistently poor. It was a real (bike) spanner in the works!
“No matter who was doing the shipping, too many of our bikes arrived looking like they’d been through a metal-munching combine harvester,” writes Rad. “It was getting expensive for us, and bloody annoying for our customers.”
Luckily, it was at this point that, rather than giving up and riding off into the sunset, they had a flash of inspiration. They stopped thinking about bikes and starting thinking about other big items that were fragile but were delivered safely to people’s homes.


“Our boxes are about the same size as a (really really massive) flatscreen television. Flatscreen televisions always arrive in perfect condition. What if we just printed a flatscreen television on the side of our boxes?”
It was a simple and local cost solution that had a huge and immediate impact; shipping damage dropped by 70%-80%.
And the moral is sometimes it pays to think out of the box (sorry couldn’t resist it!). What can you learn from looking at how other markets deal with the same challenges you face?
The company hoped to keep the hack secret in the hope of continuing to fool the shippers, but it got out when a photograph of the packaging was posted to Twitter by the Wall Street Journal’s Jason Gay.
Luckily being outed on Twitter hasn’t made any difference to the efficacy of this new packaging. In fact if anything it has improved it even more. “Our damage rate has gone even lower since the news came out,” VanMoof marketing director Dave Shoemack told Co.Exist. “It seems that we now get special treatment!”

Dispelling a Christmas myth

Dispelling a Christmas myth





It’s Christmas time, so it’s time to talk about brands and Christmas and any discussion of brands associated with Christmas inevitably comes round to Coca-Cola and its part in creating the iconic image of Santa Claus as a jolly, white-bearded old man dressed in red and white.

Many people believe Coke was the first to use this type of image.

Unfortunately, rather like other Christmas myths, the truth is somewhat different. (Sorry kids). When it comes to a jolly Santa in a red and white suit, Coca-Cola was a me-too. Another brand beat them to it and the pioneer was actually another drinks brand, White Rock Beverages.

White Rock Beverages takes its name from the White Rock natural spring in Waukesha, Wisconsin.

The local Potawatomi Indians and subsequently the first settlers believed the waters had special medicinal powers that relieved a variety of symptoms. The spring became a destination for health-seeking vacationers.

In 1871, pharmacist H.M. Colver established The White Rock Medicinal Water Company and began bottling the water and selling it. It soon changed its name to White Rock Beverages and by 1876; the company was distributing the natural spring water throughout the country. (So as a brand white Rock actually predates Coca-Cola, born in 1886, Dr. Pepper which debuted in 1885 and Pepsi that started in 1898)

White Rock became America’s most recognized brand of water. It extended into Ginger Ale and other seltzers. It was chosen to christen Lindbergh’s “Spirit of St. Louis” prior to its historic flight, and across the Atlantic, it was served at the coronation banquet of King Edward VII.



Then on December 19th 1915 in the run up to Christmas, it ran a black and white press ad in the San Francisco Examiner.  The ad showed a jolly old man dressed in what we would now recognise as a Santa suit and driving a soda truck laden with White Rock water.





The following year Santa had upgraded his mode of transport and was now seen flying a bi-plane in an ad that appeared in The New York Herald on December 10, 1916.

The world has to see the colour of that suit when White Rock ran an ad in the December 12 of Life Magazine with Santa resplendent in his red and white outfit.

There is another interesting twist in the ad.

Santa is sitting at his desk reading a letter and laughing. Perhaps not surprisingly there is an opened bottle of White Rock mineral water and a glass beside it, on his desk. What is more surprising is that Santa also has an opened bottle of Whiskey on his desk. This was after all during the height of prohibition. Many see this as a not too obvious nod towards the fact that both soda water and ginger ale were popular mixers for the illicit liquors of that era. Clearly, White Rock felt that the North Pole and Santa were exempt from U.S laws.


Coke’s association with a red and white Santa didn’t begin until 1931, when D’Arcy advertising executive Archie Lee convinced the company it needed a campaign that showed a wholesome Santa Claus who was both realistic and symbolic.

So now, you know White Rock was the first to use this style of image, but it is fair to say that it was Coca-Cola who would really popularise the image around the world.

The Copywriter and the blind man

The Copywriter and the blind man


A copywriter was walking to work when he passed a man sitting on the side of the street asking for money. A sign in front of a small bowl read “I am blind” but the bowl only contained a couple of coins. Perhaps not surprisingly, the blind man looked a little depressed.
The copywriter stopped and as he was getting some change, he started to talk to the man. When the blind man discovered he was a copywriter, he said, “Instead of giving me some change perhaps you could write me a better sign.”
The copywriter thought for a bit and finally added a few words to the man’s sign.
Walking back from work that evening, the copywriter saw that the man was still sitting by the side of the street but as he got closer, he could see the man looked happy and his bowl was full of money. He stopped to chat to the man again.
The blind told him that not only had people given him more money than they ever had before, many had stopped and talked to him.
He asked the copywriter what he had written on the sign.
“Oh nothing much I just added four words… it now reads ‘It is spring and I am a blind man’.”

This is not my story. It is not a new story but when I saw a version of it quoted by Paul Feldwick recently in Campaign, the urge to retell a great story got the better of me. So, this is my version. For me, the story not only demonstrates the power of emotion and the power of a few carefully chosen words, it is an example of how the best stories travel through their telling and retelling. Please tell your version to whoever you want.

How to create the perfect TV show

How to create the perfect TV show


Predicting a sure fire hit on TV is said to be almost impossible, which is why it’s traditional for most networks to commission and test pilots for most of the major shows we now see.
Netflix bucked that trend when in 2012 it commissioned “House of Cards” without a pilot. It was so certain of success that it paid up front for 26 episodes, over 1200 minutes of TV at a budget of around $100m.

Netflix believe in the power of data.

They track and analyse a lot of data.


Netflix has over 85 million customers who use their streaming service. It is this large user base that provides Netflix with all the data they need. Traditional ‘broadcast’ television networks don’t have the same level of access. They get much of their information from surveys based on samples of people who agree to have their viewing habits recorded.

Netflix has the advantage of being an internet company and this means they can tap into much more data from all their viewers.

Netflix can track not only what you watch but:

  • When you pause, rewind, or fast forward
  • What day you watch content (perhaps not too surprisingly Netflix has found people watch TV shows during the week and movies on the weekend.)
  • The date you watch
  • What time you watch content
  • Where you watch (postcode)
  • What device you use to watch (Do you like to use your tablet for TV shows, is children’s content watched on i-pads?)
  • The ratings given (about 4 million per day)
  • Searches (about 3 million per day)
  • Browsing and scrolling behaviour

Netflix also looks at data within movies and TV shows. The brand pays people to watch and tag different elements within movies and shows. Their aim is to provide better recommendations for other films and shows you might like to watch. So rather than the standard genres like ‘Drama’, ‘Horror’, Sci-Fi” they have created some 80,000 new micro-genres which include “comedy films featuring talking animals” or “teen comedy featuring a strong female lead”.
It was analysis of data like this that led Netflix to identify that people who loved the original 1990s BBC version of House of Cards also liked films starring Kevin Spacey and films directed by David Fincher. Based on this they outbid other networks including HBO and ABC for the rights to House of Cards and made a new version starring Kevin Spacey with the first two shows by David Fincher.
Jonathan Friedland, Chief Communications Officer, says “Because we have a direct relationship with consumers, we know what people like to watch and that helps us understand how big the interest is going to be for a given show. It gave us some confidence that we could find an audience for a show like House of Cards.”
The rest as they say in the movie business is “history”. House of Cards has had huge ratings and been a critical success, scooping a host of awards. Season 5 was run earlier this year.

Getting behind Big Red

Getting behind Big Red


The parallels between Vodafone and Ferrari are pretty obvious, both technologically advanced, leaders in their fields, fast, powerful, aspirational and of course red; so when in 2001 the then Vodafone Chief Executive Chris Gent announced a sponsorship it seems a good fit.

“This is an exceptionally good deal for us, and will give us greatly enhanced brand exposure throughout the world.”

Vodafone had a customer base of 83 million people world-wide, which spanned five continents and 29 countries. It had big plans to become one of the world’s top brands. Formula One offered Vodafone high profile exposure in a sport that commanded a world-wide television audience of 360 million people for each race.

christopher-gent“We are the world’s leading mobile telecoms company and it is our objective for Vodafone to be recognised as one of the leading global brands.” said Sir Chris Gent. “I am confident that the sponsorship of Ferrari, with the immensely valuable media coverage that Formula One attracts, will help us towards achieving this ambition.”

All of which was undoubtedly true but was only half the story; there was another reason why the Ferrari deal was so right for Vodafone.

At the end of the 20th Century Vodafone was indeed present in a number of countries but not always branded as Vodafone. Its stamp collection of brands included Telecel in Portugal, Europolitan in Sweden, Libertel in Netherlands, Panafon in Greece, Click in Egypt, Eircell in Ireland and most importantly in trems of scale were  Omnitel in Italy and D2 in Germany; the last of these having been acquired in an audacious £178 billion ($212 billion) takeover.

Following an extensive project Sir Chris Gent had announced in 2000 that all these brands would transition to the Vodafone brand.

omnitel-1Two of the biggest internal stumbling blocks to the initial plan were Omnitel and D2. Omnitel had been a fantastically successful brand in Italy and indeed was as strong, if not stronger, there than Vodafone was in the UK at the time. Omnitel was however closely linked with the colour green, which featured in its logo. The management at D2 were still a bit amazed and reluctant to admit that their successful German company had been taken over by this British upstart and were proving resistant to the proposed change.

Behind the scenes, new flagship initiatives were being discussed that would help cement the brand migrations and soothe the agitated subsidiaries’ management teams; a major global sponsorship was suggested.

Suddenly the proverbial light-bulb went off and Terry Barwick, the then Corporate Affairs Director was send on a mission – get Ferrari at all costs. Luckily he had a combined brand budget and a blank cheque!

Why Ferrari? – yes, they were successful, leaders, global, technologically advanced all the things Sir Chris gent talked about publically but just as importantly they were Red and Italian.  It was perfect reason to help persuade the Italian team at Omnitel to see red. What’s more Ferrari’s lead driver at the time was none other than world champion Michael Schumacher who was, of course, German and more than acceptable for D2.

Terry Barwick did the deal, the sponsorship was duly announced and warmly received in the UK, in Italy and in Germany.

The moral is that brand migrations need to take not just customers but employees with them on the journey. If you are planning a brand migration keep asking yourself ‘what’s in it for them?’ both for your customers but also for your employees

Life’s a bowl of apples

Life’s a bowl of apples


Since it opened its doors in Chicago in 1935, the advertising agency Leo Burnett has created a whole range of memorable communication equities for its clients including Charlie the Tuna for Starkist Tuna, Tony the Tiger for Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes (or Frosties as they are known in the UK), The Marlboro Man, the Pillsbury Doughboy, the Keebler Elves, Morris the Cat for 9-Lives cat food and the Jolly Green Giant.
The last of these was created for one of the company’s first clients, the Minnesota Canning Company however the icon proved so successful that the company renamed itself Green Giant.
However one of its most enduring icons wasn’t created even created for one of its clients, it was created for the agency itself and on the very first day that Leo Burnett Inc. opened its doors for business; August 5, 1935.
leo-burnett-2As Leo Burnett later explained in Stephen R. Fox’s ‘The Mirror Makers’ “My associates and I saw the opportunity to offer a creative service badly needed in the Middle West. I sold my house, hocked all my insurance, and took a dive off the end of a springboard.”
And the icon that was created that day was Leo Burnett’s legendary bowl of apples.
To brighten up the place and provide a warm welcome for any and all visitors, their first receptionist (whose name perhaps disappointingly seems to have been lost to time) set out a bowl of apples. Given that this was the middle of the depression it was bold, optimist and friendly statement.
Word quickly got around Chicago that Leo Burnett was serving apples to his visitors and one cynical newspaper columnist cracked, “It won’t be long ’til Leo Burnett is selling apples on the street cornet instead of giving them away.”
To be fair, the columnist was only saying many people in the media industry were thinking; namely that it was the height of folly to start an advertising agency not only in the midst of the Depression, but in Chicago and not on Madison Avenue in New York where all the other leading agencies were based.
However the apples were very much on brand. They fitted exactly with the philosophy that Leo Burnett espoused. This is the man who said “When you’re on your economic bottom, then the only way to go is up.” And whose agency motto is “When you reach for the stars you may not quite get one, but you won’t come up with a handful of mud either.”
leo-burnett-singaporeToday and every day if you visit a Leo Burnett agency you will still see in reception, sitting in pride of place, a welcoming bowl of apples.
It has been estimated that in the last ten years, the Chicago headquarters has given away more than two million apples to employees, clients and visitors – now that’s food for thought.