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.

quote about coca-cola

When Was Coca-Cola First Sold?

old-fashioned coke sign on a building

Coca-Cola is as American as apple pie and baseball. The soft drink was first offered in soda fountains in drugstores in 1886.

The distinct Coca-Cola taste was the brainchild of John Pemberton, a pharmacist in Atlanta. After he tragically passed away in 1888, the rights to the soft drink 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 ton of promotional merchandise. Candler offered free Coke clocks and metal signs to gas stations and stores that they could put on display for their customers to see. Coca-Cola also used promotional calendars, coolers, and metal trays in their marketing.

By the time plastisol ink was invented in 1959, Coca-Cola was offering even more promotional swag to their fans. This included branded t-shirts and little knick-knacks and figurines featuring the brand’s iconic slogans. There were even people who had entire rooms decked out in Coca-Cola swag!

Candler dedicated an estimated $11,000 a year to these marketing efforts between 1892 and 1919, which is over $300,000 in today’s money. Before long, Coca-Cola become one of the most iconic brands of the 20th century. 

quote about coca-cola

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:

Promotional Calendars

Coke calendar with Hilda Clark

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

old Coke tacker signs

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.


vintage neon coca cola clock

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!


vintage coca-cola cooler

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 Decorations

coca-cola ornaments

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 custom ornaments.

Serving Trays

coca-cola serving trays

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.


vintage coca-cola t-shirts

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!


vintage coke glasses

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 Coca-Cola’s Swag Work for Them?

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.

old Coca-cola sign

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 Coca-Cola Collectors Club has over 5,000 members in 28 countries!

quote from David Butler coca-cola

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!

Coca-Cola Guinness World Record

Coca-Cola Guinness World Record
In 2009, 15-year-old Rebecca Flores set the world record at the time in collecting Coca-Cola memorabilia with 945 different items.

Coca-Cola Wedding

Coca-Cola Wedding
Stacey De Witt and Jara Jones tied the knot during a ceremony that included a Coca-Cola toast and personalized “bride” and “groom” bottles.

Coca-Cola Tattoo

Coca-Cola Tattoo
Many fans get tattoos of Coca-Cola to show their love and dedication to the soft drink. This includes everything from vintage bottles to vending machines.

Coca-Cola Museum

Coca-Cola Museum
While it was open, the Schmidt Museum of Coca-Cola Memorabilia in Kentucky featured a variety of branded merch and unique bottles in a 32,000 square foot space.

Coca-Cola Fashion Line

Coca-Cola Fashion Line
For the 2013 Fashion Week in New York and London, two Coca-Cola collections hit the runways from Marc Jacobs and Ashish Gupta.

Coca-Cola Fanatic

Coca-Cola Shed
Hendrik Botha from South Africa claims to “wake up with Coke and go to bed with Coke.” His collection of branded merch is on display in his shed, which is open for the community to come and visit.

Coca-Cola Birthday Cake

Coca-Cola Birthday Cake
Business tycoon Warren Buffett loves Coca-Cola so much, he had this giant cake made for his 88th birthday! He went on to tell Fortune Magazine that he’s “one quarter Coca-Cola.”

Coca-Cola Shrine

Coca-Cola Shrine
Pat Reidy loves Coca-Cola so much, she created a shrine for it in her home. She started building her collection in 1975.

Coca-Cola Fair

Coca-Cola Fair
Every year, fans gather in one location to celebrate the Coca-Cola Collectors Fair. Visitors can come to this event to shop for cool memorabilia and trade with other collectors.

Coca-Cola Auction

Coca-Cola Auction
In 2019, an auction took place online for over 1,000 vintage Coca-Cola items. The list included such collectibles as plush polar bears, early vending machines, signs, and even Hawaiian shirts!

Coca-Cola Convention

Coca-Cola Convention
Fans from the Coca-Cola Collectors Club meet up every year for a national convention. Bruce Tindall. the president of the Queensland Chapter, has over 20,000 items in his collection.

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!


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