How Asa Candler Built Coca-Cola
The power of advertising is ubiquitous today, but Asa Candler was among the earliest entrepreneurs to aggressively use it. Candler wasn't an inventor; he didn't come up with a great company name or even a distinctive logo. Rather his greatest achievement was as a marketer. When he purchased control of Coca-Cola, it was a fledging five-cent soda fountain drink that only sold about nine glasses a day in its first year on the market.
Under Candler's watch, Coca-Cola's advertising budget grew from $100,000 in 1901 to $1 million in 1911. The Coca-Cola name was plastered on everything—calendars, clocks, fans, and even urns. Pharmacists selling the drink had apothecary scales emblazoned with the name. A team of traveling Coca-Cola syrup salesmen was sent out to ensure that pharmacists were mixing the beverage correctly with carbonated water, and that their stores were properly adorned with Coca-Cola logos and signs. Candler even contracted actress and singer Hilda Clark to be the face of Coca-Cola, initiating one of the first-ever celebrity endorsements.
Early ads for the beverage said it was "exhilarating and invigorating," while a 1905 slogan proclaimed that "Coca-Cola Revives and Sustains." The company soon backed off from any claims of health benefits -- after all, the real market aim was getting perfectly healthy people to drink it too. A 1906 slogan touted Coca-Cola as "The Great National Temperance Beverage," marketing it as an alternative to alcoholic drinks in a country that would soon head into prohibition.
Candler was the ultimate promoter. He gave away coupons for a free glass of Coca-Cola and offered pharmacists who were reluctant to sell the drink the first barrel of syrup for free. Those same pharmacists quickly returned as paying retailers when they saw all the coupon-wielding customers wandering in.
Candler was born in 1851 and worked as a pharmacist before buying Coca-Cola from John Stith Pemberton, the inventor of the sweet syrup that serves as the base for the drink. By 1891, Candler had purchased the entire company for just $2,300, the equivalent of about $54,400 today. While the Coca-Cola name spread, the company added syrup manufacturing plants in Dallas, Chicago, and Los Angeles, in addition to its home base in Atlanta. In the early 1890s, Coca-Cola was purely a soda fountain drink; it wasn't until a retailer in Vicksburg, Miss. started bottling the drink that it became portable. Despite Candler's marketing acumen, he wasn't convinced that bottling the beverage was the way to go. He sold the exclusive rights to bottle Coca-Cola in 1899 to two guys in Tennessee for about a dollar.
By 1906 the drink was being bottled in the U.S and overseas, and most of the globe was drinking Coca-Cola long before the company came up with the catchphrase to "Buy the World a Coke." In 1919, the Chandler family stake in the company was acquired for around $25 million by an investor group led by Ernest Woodruff. Candler resigned from the company in 1916 and became mayor of Atlanta. He was also an active philanthropist until his death in 1929.
Throughout his career, Candler vigorously pursued copy-cat drinks in order to maintain the integrity of the brand, a mission that continues today. The secret formula for Coca-Cola reportedly resides in a vault in an Atlanta bank and, in 2006, a scheme to sell company secrets to Pepsi landed three employees in jail.