Ken Wilson investigates the hard sell for soft drinks.
With one ofthc best summers of recent years. the fizzy drinks makers are busy counting their profits. All. however. owe a debt not so much to the vagaries of the weather but rather to the Revd Joseph Priestly. who was the first to charge “30 with C03 and invented .s‘piritus silvestris or carbonated water.
When someone hit on the bright idea of adding bicarbonate of soda (hence soda water) it was suggested that the new fizzy drink could aid digestion; this was just the first of many wild claims made for the health-giving properties of carbonated drinks.
Elias Durand. a former pharmacist in Napoleon’s army. emigrated to the New World and became famous for opening America's first drugstore. attracting intellectuals
and academics to the marble and mahogany interior of his soda fountain.
The drugstore idea caught on and by the 18305 soda water in various ﬂavours was bottled and sold across the counter. Then root beer became popular. Initially. little packages of dried roots, herbs and ﬂowers were used to flavour soda water. Then W.S. Morrison, a Texan chemist, invented a dark, carbonated drink which he named after the father of the girl he was courting, one Dr Pepper.
The new root beers claimed to be nerve tonics. blood purifiers and even ‘brain food‘. A growing temperance movement in America boosted the fortunes of soda fountain suppliers, especially John S. Pemberton. a quack doctor
famous for his ‘panaceas for a multitude ofhuman frailties‘, who developed a syrup from cocoa leaves and kola nuts. He named it Coca-Cola.
From the very beginning Coca-Cola showed the power of aggressive marketing. As ‘the great natural temperance drink‘ it became, by 1902, the best recognised product in America. Its bottle. based on the shape of a cocoa bean, and its red and white logo have become design classics.
The Coca-colonisation of the world ' is now virtually complete. Today‘s slogans are not so very different from the absurd promises of the early quacks. Coke was ‘the real thing‘. it could ‘add life‘. things would ‘go better with Coke‘. Once it promised to unite the world with its ‘I‘d like to buy the world a Coke‘ message.
Now. enigmatically. Coke is simply ‘it‘.
But to imagine that Coke’s proclamations ofbeing the real thing and the right stuff are just so much ad agency hype, would be wrong. In May 1985 the company broke their golden rule ‘Don’t mess with Mother Coke’ and changed the secret formula to produce New Coke. It was a spectacular flop. which could not be blamed entirely on poor market research. The largest new product research project in the company’s history took two years and cost $4 million.
Coke research (all too aware of the threat posed by Pepsi’s taste ‘challenge‘ stalls). made the error of concentrating on taste rather than 7 Coca-Cola‘s mysterious ‘cultural heritage’. As one marketeer observed: ‘Coke stands beside baseball. hot dogs and apple pie as an American institution. The company failed to measure these deep emotional ties. . . Coke’s symbolic meaning was more D
3*“ ’ T E R RY -
~ the best humorous English author since I’.G. Wodehouse.’
SI '.\'I);I I’ TELEGRIHI
GUARDS! 2‘ GUARDS! ,
TWO NEW DISCWORLD NOVELS
prowler is turning
the citizens of Ankh-Morpork. greatest city of the fantasy Discworld. into something resembling small charcoal biscuits ...
; TERRY .~ PRATCHETT
Granny Weatherwax rides again!
‘When shall we three meet again?’
‘Well I can do next Tuesday ...’
" rum 3 I’lx’.\'II‘I IIUI'I
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THE HILARIOUS NEW DISCWORLI) N OVEL NOW IN CORGI N PAPERBAC K. ‘
The List 10— 23 November 1989 75