Coke Is It


© History Oasis
If the 'Coke Is It' campaign taught us anything, it's that brands are not just selling a product, but an experience. The youth of the '80s didn't just drink Coke, they lived it. Controversy and all, Coca-Cola succeeded in embedding itself in the zeitgeist of a generation.

—David Ogilvy

In the early 1980s, a seismic shift rippled through the corridors of Coca-Cola's Atlanta headquarters, resulting in a daring pivot that would forever reshape the soft drink industry.

The whimsical "Have a Coke and a Smile" gave way to the edgy proclamation, "Coke Is It," a slogan that marked the beginning of a rollercoaster journey for the iconic brand.

From cultural appropriation controversies to groundbreaking marketing strategies, this blog post dives headfirst into the turbulent currents of Coca-Cola's game-changing campaign.


Have a Coke and a smile AD
Source: The Coca-Cola Company

It was 1981, a year teetering on the edge of a brand new era.

Across the vast, busy maze of Coca-Cola's bustling Atlanta headquarters, a meeting of minds was about to change the course of soda history. Nestled within the stern marble pillars and glass walls of the iconic boardroom, executives steeped in decades of marketing prowess found themselves on the cusp of a daring venture.

Their objective was to replace a familiar refrain.

For years, "Have a Coke and a Smile" had been the company's warm, inviting beacon. Its melody graced radio waves and television screens, echoing in the ears of a nation.

The slogan was more than just an advertising catchphrase—it was an ethos, a welcoming mantra that defined Coca-Cola as the universal beverage of choice, a soft drink that spanned generations and occasions.

The Birth of a New Era

Yet as they sat around that polished mahogany table, pens poised over notepads, these architects of persuasion knew it was time for a metamorphosis.

Times were changing—the carefree innocence of the seventies was giving way to the vibrant, electric pulse of the eighties.

The old guard recognized the winds of change, understanding that their brand needed to evolve in tandem with the swiftly shifting social landscape.

And thus, the decision was made.

From the hushed, tense air of the boardroom, a new slogan emerged: "Coke is it."

Three simple words, but their impact was profound.

Stripped of its previous gentle warmth, the new slogan was audacious, assertive, a confident declaration to the world.

It was a direct, no-nonsense statement of fact, a resounding proclamation that Coca-Cola was not just a beverage, but a lifestyle, an attitude, an experience.

The Path Ahead

As the meeting concluded, the boardroom slowly emptied, leaving behind the echo of an ambitious decision.

The "Coke Is It" campaign was not just a slogan—it was a manifesto, a daring strategic shift for a company standing at the threshold of an exciting and uncertain future.

No one could predict the turbulence that lay ahead, but one thing was certain: Coca-Cola was poised to dive headfirst into a new decade, and the world of marketing would never be the same.


Coke is it! (Ad)
Source: The Coca-Cola Company

In the wake of their daring slogan transformation, the minds behind Coca-Cola turned their gaze towards the horizon, towards a swiftly growing demographic that would shape the decade to come.

They knew where their new battlefield lay—it was in the realm of the young, the vibrant, the ever-changing landscape of youth culture.

This was the 1980s, a time when youth culture was blossoming, expanding, and transforming at a breakneck pace.

Pop music was transforming into a cultural powerhouse, with MTV leading the charge, the glowing television screen becoming the new hearth around which a generation gathered.

The youth were no longer passive consumers—they were active participants, creators of trends, shapers of culture.

A Strategic Gamble

Coca-Cola understood that this restless, vibrant energy was something to be harnessed, not just catered to.

The decision was made: the brand would steer away from its traditional all-ages approach.

The wholesome family appeal, a comforting touchstone since the company's inception, would step aside for something new, something bold.

The Young at Heart

"Coke Is It" was not just an assertion of Coca-Cola's dominance in the soft drink market—it was a message to the young and the young at heart.

It was a proclamation that Coca-Cola understood the pulse of the youth, that it was just as vibrant, just as dynamic, just as revolutionary.

This was not just about selling a beverage—it was about tapping into a cultural revolution, riding the tidal wave of change that was sweeping through society.

This was a high-stakes gamble. A shift away from a trusted, familiar approach was fraught with risk. But the decision-makers at Coca-Cola knew that to remain relevant, they needed to mirror the restlessness and innovation of the very demographic they were seeking to reach.

They were preparing to leap into uncharted territory, knowing that the road ahead was fraught with challenges.

Yet they pushed on, firm in their belief that the Coca-Cola brand could win the hearts of a generation on the cusp of defining a new era.


In the electrifying dawn of the 1980s, the marketing mavens at Coca-Cola understood that they were not merely peddling fizzy refreshment.

Their product was not a mere commodity, but a symbol, a lifestyle choice woven into the vibrant tapestry of popular culture that defined the era.

A Symphony of Soda and Song

"Coke Is It" wasn't just a slogan. It was a melodic beacon that beckoned from radio waves, echoing into the consciousness of millions.

This jingle wasn't just catchy—it was a cultural ear-worm, an anthem that captured the spirit of a new decade, setting toes tapping and hearts humming to its tune.

Star Power

As the campaign unfurled, the familiar faces of pop music's biggest stars appeared alongside the famous red and white logo.

Endorsements poured in, further cementing the bond between Coca-Cola and the pulsating heartbeat of youth culture.

With each advertisement, Coca-Cola seemed less a beverage company and more a curator of cool, leveraging star power to add a shimmering veneer of glamor and youth to its brand.

A Dance with Pop Culture

With "Coke Is It", Coca-Cola entered into a symbiotic relationship with popular culture.

The campaign masterfully intertwined the soda with the music, trends, and ethos of the 1980s, making it synonymous with the youthful energy that defined the era.

In crafting a campaign so deeply embedded in the zeitgeist, Coca-Cola was no longer just a participant in pop culture—it was an influencer, a shaper of narratives.

Its place was now at the epicenter of youth culture, with each can of Coke becoming a symbol of rebellion, excitement, and dynamic energy.

A Coke was no longer just a Coke; it was a statement, an assertion of coolness that resonated deeply with its young target demographic.


Coke is it vintage ad
Source: The Coca-Cola Company

As the "Coke Is It" campaign took flight, it soon became apparent that the turbulence of innovation was not without its challenges.

While many embraced the new, dynamic face of Coca-Cola, others responded with skepticism and even outrage. The company found itself on the precipice of controversy, accused of navigating murky waters of cultural appropriation.

Rhythms Borrowed, Voices Muted

Critics argued that Coca-Cola, in its zealous pursuit of youth appeal, had ventured too far.

They claimed that the company was exploiting hip-hop culture, borrowing its rhythms, its style, its energy, without truly understanding or acknowledging its roots.

Coca-Cola, it was suggested, had re-packaged elements of a vibrant and distinct culture into a glossy, commodified campaign, diluting its authenticity in the process.

This controversy served as a flashpoint for broader conversations about the responsibilities of advertisers.

It threw into sharp relief the power and influence wielded by advertising, capable of shaping and defining cultural narratives.

The debate centered around one key question: What was the ethical boundary when it came to harnessing cultural elements for commercial gain?

Coca-Cola found itself under scrutiny, its methods questioned.

Critics demanded a more conscious approach, an effort to respect and honor the origins of the cultural elements it so freely used.

They argued for transparency, for acknowledgment, for a more sincere integration of cultural trends, instead of mere surface-level borrowing.

The Echoes of Controversy

In the wake of these controversies, the "Coke Is It" campaign was no longer just a marketing initiative; it had become a cultural talking point, sparking discussions about the intersection of advertising, culture, and ethics.

The campaign was more than just a slogan, more than just an ad—it was a case study, an example of the complexities and pitfalls inherent in marrying brand identity with cultural trends.

The controversy underscored the delicate balancing act faced by companies like Coca-Cola: to remain relevant and appealing while respecting the intricate tapestry of cultures from which they drew inspiration.


Another Coke is it! (Ad)
Source: The Coca-Cola Company

Riding on the tumultuous waves of the "Coke Is It" campaign, Coca-Cola, a company as American as apple pie, set its sights on the world.

Buoyed by the resonance of their new slogan within the United States, the brand decided it was time to extend the message across the seas. But this voyage into international waters was not without its treacherous currents.

Global Ambitions, Local Challenges

Embracing their global aspirations, Coca-Cola attempted to wrap the entire planet in its red and white ribbon.

However, the company soon found that the catchy rhythms and punchy slogan did not reverberate the same way in every corner of the world.

"Coke Is It", so powerful and direct in English, suddenly found itself adrift in a sea of languages, cultures, and contexts.

In some countries, the iconic slogan proved problematic.

Translation difficulties arose, turning the bold statement into a confusing jumble of words. It was a stark reminder of the complexities of language and the perils of assuming that what works in one culture will seamlessly translate to another.

Cultural Mismatch

Even more critical were the cultural mismatches.

The elements of pop culture and youthful rebellion that defined the campaign in America didn't always resonate in the same way abroad.

Different societies, with their own unique youth cultures and norms, looked at the American-infused campaign with a mix of confusion, indifference, or even disdain.


Coke is it 80s ad
Source: The Coca-Cola Company

Behind the bright lights and catchy tunes of the "Coke Is It" campaign, a storm was quietly brewing.

The jingle, the very backbone of the campaign, was thrust into the spotlight, not for its catchy rhythm but for its purported origin.

Accusations of melody theft turned the catchy tune into a subject of legal scrutiny, adding another layer of controversy to the campaign's legacy.

At the heart of the lawsuit was a simple yet potent claim: that Coca-Cola had stolen a melody to craft its catchy jingle.

The accusation was akin to striking a discordant note in a symphony, a suggestion of plagiarism that threatened to tarnish the brand's carefully orchestrated campaign.

The Music of the Courts

The legal proceedings played out like an elaborate dance, with Coca-Cola at the center.

It was a complicated ballet of lawyers and accusations, copyright laws, and musical notes.

Yet, for a company already navigating the choppy waters of cultural controversies, it was an unwelcome distraction, a harsh spotlight illuminating an area they would have preferred remained in the shadows.

The Silent Settlement

In the end, the cacophony died down not with a dramatic climax, but with a whisper.

A settlement was reached, quietly and without fanfare, allowing Coca-Cola to sidestep a potentially damaging verdict.

The lawsuit, while a bitter pill to swallow, was largely brushed under the corporate carpet, allowing the company to refocus its efforts on the still-resounding echoes of the "Coke Is It" campaign.


New Coke vintage ad
Source: The Coca-Cola Company

In the world of marketing, where successful campaigns often enjoy a long lifespan, the "Coke Is It" campaign found itself abruptly silenced.

The year 1985, already laden with controversy and challenges for Coca-Cola, brought with it the untimely demise of a campaign that had, until then, fought to keep its tune playing amidst a cacophony of criticism.

The introduction of "New Coke" was more than just a product launch—it was a cataclysm, a corporate decision that would unravel the fabric of a century-old brand.

The "Coke Is It" campaign, which had stood as the anthem of a new Coca-Cola, was suddenly overshadowed, its messaging drowned out by the uproar surrounding the new product.

A Revolt Like No Other

The consumer backlash that followed the launch of "New Coke" was unprecedented.

It was a revolt, a powerful demonstration of consumer loyalty, a resounding outcry against change.

This consumer storm forced Coca-Cola into an abrupt about-face, leading to the rapid reintroduction of the original formula under a new banner—"Coca-Cola Classic."

The return of the original Coca-Cola was a resounding victory for consumers, but it marked the end of the "Coke Is It" era.

The campaign that had been the face of Coca-Cola's brave new direction was phased out, its tune slowly fading away as the company scrambled to recover from the "New Coke" disaster.

An Uncertain Legacy

As the dust settled, the "Coke Is It" campaign found itself in a curious position.

It had been bold, innovative, and controversial. But its lifespan had been cut short, its narrative forever intertwined with the disaster of "New Coke".

The campaign, which had promised a new identity for Coca-Cola, left behind an uncertain legacy, a question mark hanging over its place in the annals of marketing history.

In the grand scheme of things, "Coke Is It" served as a testament to the complexities of branding, a reminder of the pitfalls of cultural appropriation, and the challenges of global marketing.

Despite its abrupt end, its echoes still resonate, serving as a valuable lesson in the delicate dance between brand evolution and consumer loyalty.