Nothing is better than a cool drink of Coca-Cola. It pairs well with just about everything – cheeseburgers, ice cream floats, whiskey. The list is endless!

The best pairing, though? Coca-Cola and merch like pens, t-shirts, and bottle openers. The soft drink has a history of adding their logo to a bunch of cool stuff, and people absolutely love it.

Coca-Cola loves promotional products and has been doing branded merch before it was cool. This billion dollar brand paved the way for the future of marketing.

When Was Coca-Cola First Sold?

Coca-Cola is as American as apple pie and baseball. The soft drink came to drugstores in 1886 and was created by John Pemberton, a pharmacist in Atlanta.

After Pemberton tragically passed away, the rights to Coca-Cola were passed along to another pharmacist named Asa Candler. This change was huge as it really catapulted Coca-Cola to stardom. For starters, the drink started being sold in bottles rather than just the fountain. More people could enjoy the cool drink than ever before, and right at home, thus creating a ton of fans!

And with these fans, came a whole lot of promotional merchandise. Candler offered stores Coke clocks and signs to gas stations and stores that they could put on display for their customers. Meanwhile, non-business owners were wearing t-shirts with Coca-Cola’s name and decorating their homes with little knick-knacks featuring the brand’s iconic slogans. There were even people who had entire rooms decked out in Coca-Cola swag!

Candler dedicated about $11,000 a year to these marketing efforts between 1892 and 1919, and before long, Coca-Cola become one of the most iconic brands of the 20th century. 

What is the Most Popular Coca-Cola Merchandise of All Time?

Coca-Cola has created a brand that is instantly recognizable and transcends the beverage. Much credit for this goes to their promotional merchandise. The most popular of which includes:

  • Calendars
  • Metal Signs
  • Clocks
  • Coolers
  • Holiday Items
  • Serving Trays
  • T-shirts
  • Glassware

Calendars

source: coca-colacompany.com

The first custom merchandise produced by Coca-Cola were vintage calendars in 1891. These remained popular for the decade that followed.

The calendars featured young female models and singers like Hilda Clark. Today, the originals are extremely rare and some are even valued as high as $18,000.

Metal Signs

source: ebay.com

Metal signs, also known as tackers, were embossed or lithographed in the early days of Coke advertising. They were put on display in convenience stores, diners, and gas stations.

After World War I, “privilege panels” became popular marketing. This was when a retailer would print their logo on the same metal sign as Coca-Cola in order to feed off their advertising power.

Clocks

source: collectorsweekly.com

The Coca-Cola clocks, which came out in 1893, were given as a gift to stores or restaurants that bought at least 100 gallons of Coca-Cola syrup.

These clocks were then proudly displayed for all their customers to see. It looks like it’s time for a Coke!

Coolers

source: ebay.com

In 1929, Coca-Cola paired with a sheet-metal manufacturing firm named Glascock Bros. to design a cooler that retailers could put in front of their stores and stock with Coke bottles.

32,000 of these coolers sold at $12.50 each in that first year alone. That’s roughly $6 million today!

Holiday Items

source: christmasmouse.com

Artist Haddon Sundblom was hired to create a holiday ad in 1931 featuring Santa Claus in order for Coca-Cola to increase sales in the winter.

His ad was insanely influential as it ended up creating the modern image of Santa and also opened a new door for Coke holiday merchandise like ornaments and decorations.

Serving Trays

Source: antiqueadvertisingexpert.com

Lithographed trays were produced for Coca-Cola in Coshocton, Ohio, the birthplace of promotional products.

These trays were issued to various restaurants as serving and tip trays. One of the most popular is the “Menu Girl” tray, which made its debut in 1953.

T-shirts

source: poshmark.com

T-shirts became super popular in the 1950s. Coca-Cola jumped on that trend with their own stylish tees, using the same artwork and designs that made their early calendars and trays so successful.

The vintage look was a huge hit and Coke t-shirts are still worn by fans all over the world. New styles are still coming out to this day!

Glassware

source: etsy.com

People needed something to pour their Coca-Cola into like trendy glasses. This branded drinkware was sold not only at stores, but also released for special occasions at McDonald’s.

In fact, the two brands have worked together since 1955, and it’s a partnership that’s remains lucrative to this day.

The list of Coca-Cola novelty items goes on and on. They have created bookmarks, playing cards, water bottles, necklaces, bicycles, toys, lamps, radios, and a ton more, all featuring their signature logo and vibrant red color. Many of these items are valuable collectibles today.

Did You Know?: An acid etched Coca-Cola glass from the early 20th century sold at an auction for $345.

Did Promotional Merchandise Work for Coca-Cola?

Coca-Cola’s promotional merchandise was used to create a valuable relationship with stores and restaurants, which in turn, brought more attention and business back to the soda.

Customers, meanwhile, wanted to purchase the drink while they were grabbing groceries or a bite to eat, which kept the stores and restaurants meeting that demand and buying more Coke. It was a symbiotic relationship that worked wonders for the brand.

The crazy thing is at first more money was spent on promotional items than was made in sales! There wasn’t an immediate return on investment in this marketing effort, but still, that didn’t stop the marketing team from printing the Coca-Cola logo on anything and everything.

This effort paid off in the long run as Coca-Cola is now one of the biggest brands in the world with over $1 billion a year in revenue every year and a growing list of fans who still love their retro merch. Case in point, the Coa-Cola Collectors Club has over 5,000 members in 28 countries!

How Many People Love Coca-Cola?

Coca-Cola has a legion of fans who would never dream of pouring themselves a Pepsi. In fact, about 73% of people have a favorable opinion of Coca-Cola and about 1.7 billion servings of Coke products are consumed every single day.

People can’t get enough of Coca-Cola!

There aren’t very many brands that people want to wear, collect, and display in their homes. Coca-Cola has fans of all ages and all over the world. They really got it right when it comes to using promotional merchandise.

Final Thoughts

Coca-Cola has done it all when it comes to advertising – Spotify ads, billboards, Super Bowl commercials… you name it. But there’s something special and unique about their merchandise. It serves as an all-Americana time capsule that emotionally connects people to the brand, and a lot of credit for Coca-Cola’s success can be attributed to the early exposure through this branded merchandise.

You too can have a brand as big as Coca-Cola. It just takes a good logo and using your custom merch in the right ways to make it happen!

References

Kalogeropoulous, D. (2017, August 27). You Wouldn’t Believe the Size of Coca-Cola’s Advertising Budget. Retrieved September 4, 2019, from https://www.fool.com/investing/2017/08/27/you-wouldnt-believe-the-size-of-coca-colas-adverti.aspx

Moran, P. (2012, October 23). The Evolution of the Coca-Cola Brand. Retrieved September 4, 2019, from https://www.investopedia.com/financial-edge/1012/the-evolution-of-the-coca-cola-brand.aspx

Ramos, J. (2017, August 23). Delicious and Refreshing: Over 100 Years of Coca-Cola Advertising Calendars. Retrieved September 4, 2019, from https://www.moas.org/Delicious-and-Refreshing–Over-100-Years-of-Coca-Cola-Advertising-Calendars-1-24.html

Mooney, P. (2012, January 1). What It’s Worth. Retrieved September 4, 2019, from https://www.coca-colacompany.com/news

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Myers, J. (2018, June 19). Apparently There’s a Convention for Collectors of Coca-Cola Promotional Items That’s in Its 44th Year. Retrieved September 4, 2019, from https://magazine.promomarketing.com/article/apparently-theres-a-convention-for-collectors-of-coca-cola-promotional-items-that-in-its-44th-year/

Collectors Weekly. Vintage Coke Collectibles. Retrieved September 18, 2019, from https://www.collectorsweekly.com/coca-cola/overview

Collectors Weekly. Coke Signs. Retrieved September 18, 2019, from https://www.collectorsweekly.com/coca-cola/signs

Collectors Weekly. Vintage Coke Coolers. Retrieved September 18, 2019, from https://www.collectorsweekly.com/coca-cola/coolers

Collectors Weekly. Vintage Coke Clocks. Retrieved September 18, 2019, from https://www.collectorsweekly.com/coca-cola/clocks

Collectors Weekly. Coke Christmas Items. Retrieved September 18, 2019, from https://www.collectorsweekly.com/coca-cola/christmas

Radic, K. (2011, November 2). McDonald’s and Coca-Cola Retro Promotional Glasses. Retrieved September 19, 2019, from https://www.brandingmag.com/2011/11/02/mcdonalds-and-coca-cola-retro-promotional-glasses/

Strategic Partnering. Case 3:  Coca-Cola and McDonald’s. Retrieved September 19, 2019, from http://strategic-partnering.net/case-3-coca-cola-mcdonalds/

Antique Coca-Cola Trays. History. Retrieved September 19, 2019, from http://www.cocacolatrays.com/history/

Harvey, O. (2018, August 28). 19 Insane Facts About Coca-Cola that You Probably Won’t Even Believe. Retrieved September 20, 2019, from https://soyummy.com/19-insane-coca-cola-facts/

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Green, S. (2016). Brands We Know: Coca-Cola. Bellwether Media, Inc.: Minneapolis, MN.

Slider image sources:

Guinness World Records. Largest Collection of Coca-Cola Merchandise. Retrieved from, guinessworldrecords.com

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Express. (2016, December 1). Real Thing: Collector has So Much Coca-Cola Memorabilia He’s Built a Shed in Back Garden. Retrieved from, express.co.uk

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About the author

Alyssa Mertes

Alyssa is a promo expert with over four years of experience in the industry. She is the Lead Copywriter at Quality Logo Products and has had work published for the Promotional Products Association International and the Advertising Specialty Institute.