Coca-Cola Advertising Through the Years (1886-1950s)

From the very beginning, the Coca-Cola Company has believed in the power of advertising. This belief has propelled Coke to one of the most recognizable brands in the World. Fun, exciting, colorful, entertaining, and memory making are a few of the words and phrases that can be used when describing Coca-Cola advertising. Here we present a collection of 42 vintage Coca-Cola ads from 1886 to the 1950s. Enjoy this article on the history of Coca-Cola and the company’s advertising!

Coca-Cola was first sold to the public at a store called Jacob’s Pharmacy in Atlanta, Georgia on May 8, 1886. John Pemberton, Coca-Cola original founder, ran the first advertising campaign a little later that month, on May 29th to be exact, in the Atlanta Journal newspaper. The first ad promoted Coca-Cola as “Delicious! Refreshing! Exhilarating! Invigorating!”

First Coke Ad - May 29, 1886
The very first Coca-Cola ad – May 29, 1886 from the Atlanta Journal newspaper.

Pemberton ran the above Coca-Cola ad on May 29, 1886 in the Atlanta Journal. Using the words “Delicious! Refreshing! Exhilarating! Invigorating!” to describe his soda, this was the first promotional ad ever ran for the soft drink giant.

1887 Coupon Advertisement
First Coupon Ever - Ticket for a Free Glass of Coca-Cola- ca1888
These promotional tickets for a free glass of Coca-Cola were first distributed in 1887.

This is believed to be the first “coupon” ever offered in the United States. This ticket for a free glass of Coca-Cola was distributed beginning in 1887. By 1913, more than 8.5 million of the promotional tickets had been redeemed.

1891 Calendar Advertising

The first known Coke promotional calendar was issued in 1891. Note the ad for Coca-Cola at top-right and the ad for De-Lec-Ta-Lave at top left. The item featured at left was a mouthwash product owned by Asa Candler, one of Coke’s early owners. After 1892, Candler realized that Coca-Cola deserved its own branding and no longer cross-promoted other products with the beverage.

It is believed that Coca-Cola distributed at least one calendar each year after 1891, but calendars from 1905 and 1906 have never been found. Early calendars touted the health benefits of Coke with statements like “Relieves Mental and Physical Exhaustion” and “Cures Headaches.” The 1908 calendar featured the slogan “Good to the Last Drop,” which was later trademarked by Maxwell House Coffee (and is still their slogan today).

Late 1890s / Early 1900s

Hilda Clark “Drink Coca-Cola 5¢”. A glass of Coca-Cola was available for just 5¢ from 1886 all the way until 1959.

The First Celebrities – The first celebrity to be featured in Coca-Cola advertising was famous music hall singer, Hilda Clark. Ms. Clark was featured on calendars, serving trays, metal advertising signs, posters, bookmarks, note pads and other advertising products from the late 1890s to 1904.

Vintage Advertisement - The Ideal Brain Tonic - Coca-Cola Advertising - Hilda Clark - 1890s
“The Ideal Brain Tonic” – 1890s Coca-Cola advertising featuring Hilda Clark.

Beginning in 1905, Clark was replaced in Coca-Cola advertising by an even more recognizable personality of the time, Lillian Nordica. Lillian was one of the earliest American soprano singers to become successful in the European opera circle. During her 11 seasons at the Metropolitan Opera, she sang in nearly 200 performances in 19 different roles. Her likeness graced calendars, magazine advertisements, posters, sampling coupons, serving trays and other promotional items.

First Ever Coca-Cola Magazine Ad - 1905 - Featuring Lillian Nordica and Coupon for Free Coke
First ever Coca-Cola magazine advertisement. 1905 – Featuring Lillian Nordica and coupon for a free Coke.

Above is the first ever magazine advertisement for Coca-Cola.  The full-page ad featured Lillian Nordica and ran in Good Housekeeping and other leading magazines of the day. Attached to the bottom of the ad was a promotional coupon for one free glass of Coca-Cola. Nearly $43,000 worth of coupons were redeemed in 1905 (that’s the equivalent of $1,259,689 in 2020).

Lillian Nordica featured on a Coca-Cola serving tray – ca1905.
Coca-Cola Advertisement - 1907 - Good Housekeeping Magazine
“From the Realm of Fancy to Reality” – Drink Coca-Cola – 1907 advertisement

1907 vintage Coca-Cola promotion from Good Housekeeping magazine.

Image of 1909 Coca-Cola Advertising Poster
1909 Coca-Cola Advertising Poster
1910s Coca-Cola Advertising
Vintage Coca Cola Ads - The Housewife - June 1910
Coca-Cola’s depiction of the 1910 housewife.
1911 Coca-Cola Advertising Calendar
1911 Coca-Cola advertising calendar – “The Coca-Cola Girl.”
Vintage Coke Ads - 1914 Coca-Cola Paper Poster
Vintage Coke Ads – 1914 paper poster.
1916 Coca-Cola Advertising
1916 Coca-Cola Advertising

1919 advertisement pairing Coca-Cola with food. Drink Coca-Cola Delicious and Refreshing!

1920s Coca-Cola Advertisements

1922 Coca-Cola cardboard cutout / in-store advertising.

1924 Coca-Cola ad for six pack of bottled Coke. It wasn’t until the mid to late 1920s before bottling began to overtake the fountain business in terms of the number of gallons that were served to consumers.

Coca-Cola’s first outdoor billboard advertising was called “Ritz Boy.” Launched in 1925, the billboard promoted just how popular the drink had become – with 6,000,000 drinks served per day.

1925 cardboard cutout / stand-up advertising of a carrier boy selling Coca-Cola.

1928 Coca-Cola paper advertising sign. “Refresh Yourself – Drink Coca-Cola”

1930s Coca-Cola Advertising
1931 Coca-Cola Saturday Evening Post - Santa Advertisement - Painted by Haddon Sundblom

Coca-Cola first used Santa Claus in their advertising in a 1931 Saturday Evening Post magazine ad. The artwork was painted by Haddon Sundblom, who continued to paint a new Coke Santa every year up until 1964.

1932 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, California. Attendees received these “Olympic record keepers” to keep track of world records in various sports.

1934 magazine advertisement featuring actress Jean Harlowe next to Lillian Nordica.

Vintage Coca-Cola Ads:  Artist Norman Rockwell painted six different illustrations to be used in Coca-Cola ads from 1928 to 1935. This piece from 1935, “Out Fishin,” depicted a young boy fishing on a tree stump, drinking a Coke with his dog by his side.

Vintage 1935 Coke Ad – “It’s a treat to go to the soda fountain…”

1936 – 50th Anniversary Coca-Cola Advertising.

1937 Coca-Cola in-store cardboard cutout advertising. These standup cutouts are very popular vintage Coca-Cola ads with collectors.

1940s Coca-Cola Advertising

1942 Coca-Cola “Howdy, Friend” World War II advertisement.

1943 – Three service women enjoying Coca-Cola – “The Pause that Refreshes”

Another World War II Coke ad… “My Old Friend Coke” – 1944.

As WW II was coming to an end and soldiers were returning home, Coke shifted its advertising to slogans like “Just Like Old Times.”

Coca-Cola “Yes Girl” advertising debuts – 1946. Like the Santa Claus artwork, this was painted by Haddon Sundblom.

1947 Print Ad - 'Here's Coke... The Pause that Refreshes'
1947 Print Ad – “Here’s Coke… The Pause that Refreshes.”
1948 Coca-Cola poster from South Africa – Play Refreshed.

Vintage Coca-Cola ads – 1949 “Designed for hospitality.”

1950s Coca-Cola Advertising

1950 Spanish Coca-Cola promotional poster.

65 Years of Coke - 1886-1951
Coca-Cola’s 65th anniversary advertising.

Vintage Coca-Cola Ads: 1950s paper advertising poster.

1955 'Almost Everyone Appreciates the Best' Coca-Cola Print Ad
1955 “Almost everyone appreciates the best” print ad.

1956 Coca-Cola promotional calendar – There’s Nothing Like a Coke!

1957 – Mary Alexander was the first African American person featured in Coca-Cola advertising. Mary appeared in approximately 15 print ads throughout the 1950s.

1957 Coke Ad - Sign of Good Taste
1957 – Sign of Good Taste.

1959 Coke print ad – Be Really Refreshed… Pause for Coke!

SOURCES AND FURTHER READING:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coca-Cola
http://www.adbranch.com/coca-cola-advertising-1886-1899/
https://www.coca-colajourney.com.au/stories/coca-cola-slogans-through-the-years
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fixed_price_of_Coca-Cola_from_1886_to_1959

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