The First Coca-Cola Ad Campaign Was Not What You Would Expect

When you think about advertisements for Coca-Cola, you probably think of elaborate Christmas animations, catchy songs, and celebrity endorsers.

Indeed, the popular carbonated beverage has established itself not only as the go-to soda in the past decades but also a maker of short yet captivating stories in the form of TV ads.

The Beginning



Did you know that the first ever advertisement for Coke was nothing more than a few lines of text in a small portion of the Atlanta Journal?

On May 29, 1886, the first print ad for Coca-Cola appeared. It’s the most straightforward ad that you’ll ever see of something that is now widely recognized as a leading soft drink brand, but this is where it all started.

This simple ad only proves that Coke’s maker, John Pemberton, could not have predicted the success of his creation.

A Cure for Addiction


Advertisement for Coca-Cola picturing soda fountain delivery of Coke to an office worker, 1907. The ad references the Pure Food and Drugs Act of 1906. (Photo by Jay Paull/Getty Images)

It might be a surprising fact that Coke was never meant to be a soda beverage. In fact, Pemberton first wanted to concoct a safer alternative to morphine — a substance that he became addicted to.

Pemberton was a chemist before joining the Civil War as a Confederate soldier. He endured a severe wound and was given morphine to ease the pain. When the war ended, he set out to cure his addiction the best way he knew how: creating a drink.

Working in his pharmacy, Pemberton created coca wine, but with Atlanta’s prohibition laws, he decided to switch to a non-alcoholic version of the drink.

The Soda Fountain Era


Photo Credit: Getty Images

Unlike today, the first people who ever drank Coca-Cola did so at a soda fountain. In Pemberton’s ad, he specified that Coke would be available in Atlanta’s soda fountains. The first sales made were at Jacob’s Pharmacy — and during the first year, averaged nine drinks a day.

Pemberton claimed that Coke cured addiction, headaches, impotence, and indigestion.

Pemberton’s Decline


(Photo by James Leynse/Corbis via Getty Images)

Despite Coke’s success, Pemberton’s addiction went unresolved. He got back into the habit and fell into financial debt. Also, the transition of Coke going from a medicinal beverage to a soft drink didn’t go so well.

Two years later Pemberton died of stomach cancer, and the Coca-Cola company was left to the management of his son Charley and co-owner Asa G. Candler.

The Rise of the Modern Coke


(Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

The years that followed saw the transformation of Coca-Cola’s marketing presence, with logos, slogans, and campaigns all keeping up with the times.

From Pemberton’s simple black-and-white text in a newspaper, the advertisements evolved into something that reflected what was new in the world.

In the 1900’s, ads included colored paintings in Victorian style depicting people drinking Coke while enjoying their day.


(Photo by © Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)

By 1930, Coke began using Santa Claus in its print ads and has remained a Christmas tradition until today.

Slogans like “There’s nothing like a Coke,” “Things go better with Coke,” and “Can’t Beat the Real Thing” touched generations of people all over the world.

Today, Coke ads continue to distract us from our daily lives — and we don’t even have a clue how it all started.