Book review: How Coca-Cola Took Over The World

By Giles Lury

‘How Coca-Cola Took Over The World’ by Giles Lury is the follow-up to his book ‘The Prisoner and the Penguin’ which I reviewed way back in 2014. Like that book, HCCTOTW is primarily, but not exclusively, stocked full of brand origin stories. Unlike that book (whose subtitle ‘modern marketing stories’ missed that the majority were from the 20th century) the subtitle here perfectly captures its essence - “101 marketing tales to inform, inspire and entertain”.

(Incidentally, the title refers to the first story in the book in which the Coca-Cola brand crosses paths with the crew of the Apollo 11 mission).

This time Lury has segmented his book into chapters, grouping tales together around common themes; Branding, Origins, Naming and Identities, Marketing Strategy, Communication, Innovation, Repositioning and Revitalization. Additionally, each story (and its key message) is listed at the back of the book, making it easy for the reader to quickly find an entry months after initial reading.

Lury really has packed some great fables into the book’s 336 pages. Students of advertising may be aware of the origin of Ogilvy’s famous ‘The Man In The Hathaway Shirt’ campaign, and that story features here, but the author also relays the story behind the story (how the president of Hathaway persuaded David Ogilvy to take on his small account in the first place) and in doing so Lury breathes new life into a familiar tale.

It’s also refreshing, especially given The Marketing Society’s current focus on brand bravery, to see some examples of failure and reinvention (Virgin Cola, Fabulis). 

Alongside the expected success stories from brands including WWF (their panda logo was designed to save on printing costs), Apple (whose entire board originally hated the 1984 ad and wanted all pre-booked airtime to be resold) and National Geographic Magazine (who first included photography solely to fill an 11-page gap at short notice).

Most of the marketing tales featured are just one or two pages long, so if your commute includes any time on a bus or train - even just a few stops - you’ll be able to finish HCCTOTW in no time at all.

So why buy ‘How Coca-Cola Took Over The World’? Inspiration for your next team planning day? To provide some background to add colour to a forthcoming speech? Maybe. For my money, the best reason is that Lury’s latest delivers more value per page than 98% of marketing books out there - and it’s fun to read to boot. So, congratulations - I think you just ran out of excuses not to buy this book.

By John Newton, marketing director, Aroq. Follow him @johnjnewton