Coca-Cola brand strategy / positioning case study

Coca-Cola Brand Strategy Analysis

FMCG Non-alcoholic beverages – soft drinks

Owner of the brand:
The Coca-Cola Company

Key competitors:

Brand essence

An iconic drink for everyone, bringing happiness and refreshment.

Brand values

Happiness, refreshment, inclusiveness, togetherness.

Brand character

Warm, friendly, positive, innocent, global, for everybody.

Dominating archetype

The story of how the most iconic soft drink brand in the world came into being is not widely known and, for understandable reasons, The Coca-Cola Company prefers to keep it this way. In the second half of the 19th century, Vin Mariani[1] was a popular alcoholic drink based on wine and cocaine (which at that time was believed to have many medicinal properties). Vin Mariani inspired John Stith Pemberton to create his own version of coca wine, enriched with kola nut (caffeine source). He called it Pemberton’s French Wine Coca[2] and positioned as a medical tonic helping with morphine addiction (quite common among those injured in the Civil War) and nervous diseases. It was sold mainly in Atlanta, Georgia. However, Atlanta delegalised alcohol in 1886 and, for that reason, Pemberton created a non-alcoholic formula of the drink (still containing cocaine). It was sold as syrup which mixed with carbonated water was sold at pharmacies as a fountain drink called Coca-Cola.





Cocaine was removed from Coca-Cola in 1903[3]. Since then, the overall product formula of the original Coke beverage hasn’t changed. The Coca-Cola Company did once attempt to improve the taste of its flagship product: In 1985, after conducting extensive research, it launched New Coke. New Coke in ‘blind taste tests’ (when consumers compare the taste of different products without knowing which brands they come from) performed better than not only the original product, but also its main competitor, Pepsi, to which, at that time, Coke was losing its market share (hence the new launch).
What Coca-Cola didn’t take into account was how attached people were to the ‘old Coke’. After huge consumer push-back, less than three months after introducing the new formula, the company announced the return of the original Coke. Both products were available on the market until 2002, when New Coke was discontinued.
The launch of New Coke is one of the most instructive rebranding case studies of all time (Coca-Cola calls it “one of the most memorable marketing blunders ever”[4]) as, even though it led to a new product failure, it reenergised the category and boosted sales of the original product.


One of Coca-Cola’s major success factors has been how consistently it has followed the same brand strategy for decades. The fact that the iconic brand has been based on the same pillars: taste and refreshment at the functional level, and happiness, optimism, inclusiveness and togetherness at the emotional, has significantly contributed to its timeless status.
In recent years, this brand strategy has been executed via different communications platforms. Between 2009 and 2016, Coke’s communication was based on the “Open Happiness” philosophy emphasizing purely emotional benefits (happiness and optimism). In 2016, the brand moved from image-driven communication to strengthening a product role in its marketing activities with its “Taste the Feeling” campaign. Marcos de Quinto, former Coca-Cola CMO, explained back then: “We’re going from ‘Open Happiness’ to exploring the role Coca-Cola plays in happiness.
In 2021, the brand introduced “Real Magic” and launched its first global campaign in 5 years. The promise of “Real Magic” is an inclusive proposition emphasizing that “what we share in common is greater than what sets us apart”[5] and that “unexpected moments of connection”[6] have the power to “elevate the everyday into the extraordinary”[7]. Selman Careaga, president of the global Coca-Cola category, said: “‘Real Magic’ is a new philosophy that will guide everything we do with our brand. (…) Coke will invite everyone to embrace the magic of humanity.[8]


Although both Coca-Cola and its primary competitor, Pepsi, position themselves in a similar way at the functional level – emphasizing taste and refreshment in communication, their brand strategies differ on the emotional level. While for Coca-Cola happiness and optimism are the core values, for Pepsi the core value is fun; Coca-Cola’s focus is on building a timeless brand image whilst Pepsi is more concerned with the “here and now”. Coca-Cola is an inclusive brand for everybody where Pepsi is more individualistic.


In 2016, Coca-Cola changed significantly its brand architecture: moving from separate sub-brands using different messages and targeting different audiences to a more unified approach which the company called “one brand strategy”. The main objective of this change was to extend the main brand’s appeal to other Coca-Cola variants (Diet, Zero, Life etc.) and to emphasize that Coca-Cola is for everybody and offers a range of choice: drinks with or without sugar, with or without calories, with or without caffeine. Marcos de Quinto, former Chief Marketing Officer commented: “People want their Coca-Cola in different ways, but whichever one they want, they want a Coca-Cola brand with great taste and uplifting refreshment. Through the ‘One Brand’ strategy we will move away from multiple brand campaigns, to one single iconic brand campaign that celebrates both the product and the brand.”[9]


Coca-Cola is an example of a brand based on the Innocent archetype, promising a happy, idyllic world, where everyone is welcome.


Dominant colour: red.

Most important campaigns

1. “One Coke Away From Each Other – Real Magic” (2021)

2. “Magic Of Coke Taste” (2019)

3. “Coca Cola Super Bowl Commercial 2018” (2018)

4. “Break Up” (2017)

5. “Taste The Feeling” (2016)

6. “Superstition” (2012)

7. “Hilltop” (1971)

Official brand statement:

Our Purpose:
Refresh the world. Make a difference.

Our Vision:
Our vision is to craft the brands and choice of drinks that people love, to refresh them in body & spirit. And done in ways that create a more sustainable business and better shared future that makes a difference in people’s lives, communities and our planet.[10]

Interesting facts:

Coca-Cola rebranded Coke Zero (launched in 2005) to Coca-Cola Zero Sugar almost 12 years after its original market introduction to make the name more self-explanatory; 50% of its consumers didn’t know that “Zero” in the name actually referred to zero sugar.[11]


1. The Drum on the “Real Magic” communication platform
K. Hein, “Cola-Cola Hopes ‘Real Magic’ Campaign Casts Right Spell For A Global Turnaround”, The Drum, Sep 2021,

2. Marketing Week on the “Better when we’re open” communication platform
M. Fleming, “Coca-Cola Introduces New Brand Platform As It Vows To Take A Stand On Social Issues”, Marketing Week, Feb 2020,

3. The Drum on the “Magic of Coke Taste” campaign
I. Watson, “Coca-Cola Dramatises Memories Of The First Sip In Adventures Of A Giant Tongue”, The Drum, Jul 2019,

  3. D. Lewis, “What Happened To The Cocaine In Coca-Cola?”, Business Insider, Feb 2012,
  4. “The Story Of One Of The Most Memorable Marketing Blunders Ever”, Coca-Cola,
  5. “Coca-Cola Launches ‘Real Magic’ Brand Platform, Including Refreshed Visual Identity And Global Campaign”, The Coca-Cola Company, Sep 2021,
  6. Ibid.
  7. Ibid
  8. K. Hein, “Cola-Cola Hopes ‘Real Magic’ Campaign Casts Right Spell For A Global Turnaround”, The Drum, Sep 2021,
  9. “Coca-Cola Announces ‘One Brand’ Global Marketing Approach”, The Coca-Cola Company, Jan 2016,
  11. M. N. Smith, “Coke Zero Is Being Renamed Because ‘5 In 10’ People Have No Idea It’s Sugar-Free”, Apr 20216,

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