I’m not old enough to have been around when Coke was founded — in fact, no one reading this article is. However, I still get the sensation that I’ve been around the brand for more than 100 years, maybe in a past life. Coca-Cola is so ingrained in our culture that we must have seen its logo, grasped its can, and spoken its name enough times to be more familiar with the soda than any other product on Earth. The resulting feeling is dizzying when we try to break it down: Where did it come from? How did it get here, and why is Coke so “classic”? What’s caused it to transcend from a beverage company into an international symbol of consumerism?

As the Most Recognized Brand in the World, Coke Passes 50 Million Facebook Fans

To this day, the brand has become the absolute standard of carbonated beverages with competitors like Pepsi, RC and Shasta waiting in the wings. Coca-Cola is not only the biggest selling and most recognizable soda — it’s the best known brand in the world. Of course, it is no stranger to social media. In early September, Mashable reported that Coca-Cola was the first retail brand to pass the 50 million fan mark on Facebook — reaching Lady Gaga and Rihanna status. The brand’s classic aesthetic is used everywhere from small-town diners to Olympic billboards. Cono Fusco of Logo Mojo explains that “the Coke bottle is among the most recognizable icons in the world, a design that has come to symbolize the youthful exuberance of America.” We all know by now that Coke’s distinct flavor is comprised of a mixture of ingredients kept a “trade secret.” But, what are the special advertising ingredients that give Coke its brand marketing power? The answer lies in the power of heritage branding.

Many corporations like Apple and Toyota take pride in their images and use their aesthetics to elevate the companies’ identities. In the modern corporation, new employees are required to learn about the company’s history to better understand the brand. Large corporations usually implement some kind of learning management system to keep team members well-informed of the company’s history, current infrastructure and current growth. Coke does something unique by using heritage branding to evoke feelings of nostalgia. With its unchanged logo, image and taste, Coke is an example of a tried-and-true brand that stood the test of time.

From a Pharmacy in Atlanta to “Global Coolness”

Born on May 8, 1886, the beverage was originally a syrup formulated by Dr. John Pemberton, a pharmacist out of Atlanta. He combined the formula with carbonated water to create a French wine coca, a non-alcoholic version of European Coca Wine. You may have heard your parents or grandparents talking about how Coke was originally promoted as a health drink. People used to think carbonated water was good for you. The resulting concoction was sold for 5 cents a glass. It’s not difficult to imagine a young start-up company in today’s market stumbling upon a carbonated health drink. In fact, the historical continuum is quite obvious. But how did Coke carry on to become such a gargantuan beverage brand and what makes it so “classic”?

The breaking point may have been when Coke’s board elected Roberto Goizueta, one of Pemberton’s successors, to become chairman and chief executive. Goizueta, along with partner Robert Woodruff, built the brand into a legacy. “We were global when global wasn’t cool,” Goizueta has said. His business bravado resonates the same way that the young punk-rock trio The Ramones did. “We were punk before punk was cool,” the band would say in their smug New York City accents.

By doing things out of the norm, standing out from their colleagues, and pushing forward with hard work and determination, Coke reached its goal of expanding its brand into 44 countries by World War II. The Coca-Cola story was not a smooth win. Dealing with threats from competitors and battles with federal authorities banning the sale of coca products, the company had many obstacles. However, between the years of 1923 and 1981, the brand was able to transition from the national beverage of choice to the international beverage.

Capitalizing on Sweet Bubbly Nostalgia

Suite101 explains that a heritage brand works by using the concept of a past time to sell a product. Using retro fonts, graphic styling from the ’60s and ’70s, and distinct colors and tones to sell certain products, heritage marketing captures an era far from its current age. Typically, this is done in an imaginary, magical sense, as many brands have been around for a short while. There are exceptions, such as Levi jeans, which has used the same logo forever. However, Coke is so effective in its heritage marketing, that it creates a feeling you’ve been around since its birth and through its rise to the top in the early and mid-1900s. In fact, Coke’s nostalgic vibe is potent to the extent that we can’t even recognize what era it comes from: 1950s? 1920s? late 1800s?

Because Coca-Cola is such an American flagship brand, and we’re so influenced by the product itself, it’s hard to wrap our finger around the concept’s origins. While we can’t identify the why and the where, the important part is knowing the feeling we get when we see the image: extreme familiarity, comfort, happiness, relief and even national pride. With no pun intended, Coke is the ultimate drug — hypnotizing, stimulating and seductive on both the marketing and product fronts.

Like McDonald’s golden arches or Steve Job’s bitten Apple, The Coca-Cola aesthetic is an unflinching iron-clad brand that’s not leaving any time soon. Its identity is synonymous with America. The Coke bottle, a sort of Statue Of Liberty, is a towering symbol of sweet, bubbly goodness, understood by all people around the globe. It represents all that is refreshing, American, consumerism and, for better or worse, what it is to be human.