The Oaks Ignore Their Pleas

The Evolution of a Brand

Posted in General by Jeff Graves on November 11, 2013

The 1920s lay before the company ready for the taking, and Woodruff used this rosy inheritance to turn Coca-Cola into the epitome of modern business. During the first twenty-five years of his leadership, Coca-Cola would not just dominate the fizzy drink industry but transform how all businesses operated and weave its product into the very soul of America. Woodruff’s Coca-Cola captured the spirit of the 1920s. It was an age of bold dreams, expansive plans, and modernist thinking in which synthetic plastics, refrigeration, cars, color advertising, radio, airplanes, and telephones fundamentally reshaped the world. One of the fruits of this push for the modern was a vision of the corporate boss as a decision-maker reliant on the expert knowledge of PR specialists, lawyers, researchers, salespeople, and advertising creatives to run their businesses. Woodruff was nothing if not a professional manager. Under his stewardship Coca-Cola became a firm at the cutting edge of modernist corporate management.

Tristan Donovan, from his book Fizz: How Soda Shook Up the World, in The Atlantic

I’m always fascinated by history, and in particular, the “smaller” histories of business and customs.  Here, Tristan Donovan examines the impact of Prohibition on the nascent soda industry, although here in New England, the real locals still call it “tonic”.  While today the Coca Cola company is a powerful global brand, peeking into it’s history and development as it dealt with the challenges of the Great Depression uncovers it’s rise into one of the first truly modern companies.  Many people associate Coca-Cola with their iconic advertising, which was groundbreaking in the 1920’s, but less well known is their focus on data-driven decision making, illustrated by their use of traffic studies of roads around the country to determine the best places to site billboards.  That this was accomplished in an age before the rise of computers is all the more impressive.  Coke also pioneered what we know think of as modern corporate management, by departing from the “single leader” model followed by the Carnegies, Rockefellers and Fords, and creating an organization driven by multiple disciplines, all providing information to a central leader who set out the strategy and made decisions.  As a result,  Coca-Cola  became one of the first powerful brands in America, and then the world.  Not bad for a product that’s really just sugared water.

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