The "Sign Of Good Taste" Coca-Cola Campaign


© History Oasis
"The taste of Coca-Cola is like a warm hug on a cold day."

—Oprah Winfrey

In the 1950s, amidst the backdrop of the Atomic Age, the burgeoning Civil Rights Movement, and the rise of television as a dominant medium, The Coca-Cola Company launched its "Sign of Good Taste" campaign.

This campaign, characterized by its optimistic portrayal of the American lifestyle, subtly incorporated the era's socio-cultural aspirations, even as figures like Martin Luther King Jr. were reshaping the nation's conscience.

The juxtaposition of these idealized ads against the profound changes of the decade reflects both Coca-Cola's influence on popular culture and its ability to adapt its messaging to the prevailing currents of the time.


Atomic Bomb
© History Oasis

The 1950s, often romanticized as a period of post-war optimism and rapid technological advancement, was profoundly influenced by the looming shadow of the atomic age and the promise of space exploration.

The detonation of atomic bombs in the 1940s and the onset of the Cold War engendered a global fascination with atomic energy, both its potential and its perils.

Meanwhile, the space race between the USA and the USSR, particularly after the 1957 launch of Sputnik, added to the public's captivation with what lay beyond our planet.

In this context, the world of advertising was not untouched by these overarching themes. Advertisers, always keen to tap into prevailing public sentiments, began to infuse their campaigns with imagery and themes reflective of these twin fascinations.

Coca-Cola's "Sign of Good Taste" campaign was a prime example.

The advertisements, while rooted in the present, carried undertones of a brighter, technologically advanced future.

Designs occasionally showcased sleek, space-age aesthetics, while narratives hinted at a world unified by shared tastes and aspirations. The optimistic outlook in these campaigns, mirroring society's hope in technology and exploration, was not just about selling a product.

It was a reflection of the decade's aspirations, fears, and the relentless pursuit of what lay beyond the horizon.

The campaign became an emblem of a society in transition, standing on the cusp of monumental discoveries and existential introspections.


Sign of Good Taste Ad in 1957
Source: The Coca-Cola Company

In the 1950s, a time marked by post-war economic growth and the burgeoning rise of suburbia, advertisements became powerful tools to shape and mirror societal norms.

Central to this narrative was the portrayal of an idealized American lifestyle—white picket fences, gleaming automobiles, and families gathered around television sets or picnic tables.

Coca-Cola's "Sign of Good Taste" campaign epitomized this, with ads showcasing wholesome families enjoying their product during picnics, beach outings, or baseball games. These depictions echoed an aspirational middle-class lifestyle, emphasizing values like family unity, leisurely fun, and the freedom to enjoy the simple pleasures of life.

Coca-Cola was not alone in this portrayal. For instance, Chevrolet's "See the U.S.A. in Your Chevrolet" campaign encapsulated the idea of freedom and the open road, while brands like Tupperware emphasized family and home life with ads showcasing organized kitchens and social gatherings.


Sign of Good Taste Black Family Ad
Source: The Coca-Cola Company

During the 1950s and 1960s, as the Civil Rights Movement gained momentum in challenging racial segregation and systemic injustice, the advertising world, including Coca-Cola, navigated the complex interplay of commerce, culture, and societal change.

The "Sign of Good Taste" campaign, with its idyllic representations of American life, presented a stark contrast to the fervent protests, sit-ins, and confrontations demanding racial equality.

Initially, like many other major corporations of the era, Coca-Cola's advertising was largely reflective of the predominant white, middle-class demographic, often sidelining the experiences of Black Americans.

However, as the Civil Rights Movement advanced, the company began to recognize the significance and power of the African American consumer market.

By the 1960s, Coca-Cola started featuring Black individuals in its advertising, albeit initially in roles that adhered to existing societal norms. The company's efforts to reach the Black community increased, especially in regions with a significant African American population.

Furthermore, while not directly a part of the "Sign of Good Taste" campaign, Coca-Cola's history with the Civil Rights Movement is notably marked by events such as the company's pressure on white business leaders in Atlanta to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with a formal dinner after he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964.

This was a significant gesture in a city where racial tensions were palpable.


Sign of Good Taste Poster
Source: The Coca-Cola Company

The blossoming of television and radio ushered in an era where auditory experiences became central to advertising strategies.

Music, especially jingles—those catchy, short, and memorable musical compositions—emerged as potent tools to enhance brand recognition. The "Sign of Good Taste" campaign by Coca-Cola astutely harnessed this trend, producing a slew of jingles that resonated deeply with the American public.

One memorable jingle from this period was "Things Go Better with Coke", a tune that effortlessly combined the allure of pop culture with the brand's messaging. Its repetitive and upbeat nature made it an earworm, ensuring that the brand remained on the tip of the tongue and at the back of the mind.

Another was "Coca-Cola Refreshes You Best", which emphasized the drink's ability to invigorate and rejuvenate.

Such jingles were not mere background music—they were meticulously crafted pieces of art, designed to encapsulate the brand's essence within a few melodious bars. And their popularity wasn't confined to advertisements alone. These tunes infiltrated daily life, often being hummed or sung by individuals in their homes, schools, and workplaces, thereby blurring the lines between commercial content and popular culture.

Coca-Cola's mastery in this domain wasn't an isolated phenomenon.

Brands across industries recognized the potential of jingles, but Coca-Cola's offerings stood out for their sheer ubiquity and memorability.

These jingles from the "Sign of Good Taste" campaign showcased not just a product, but also reflected the zeitgeist of the era, illustrating the profound intersection of commerce, culture, and music.


The 1950s marked a transformative era in the history of advertising—as the glowing screen of the television began to claim pride of place in the American living room.

This technological shift heralded new opportunities for advertisers, offering a visual medium to craft more immersive and engaging narratives.

The "Sign of Good Taste" campaign by Coca-Cola, once primarily tethered to the auditory realm of radio and the static visuals of print, adeptly pivoted to embrace the dynamism of television.

One notable commercial from this era featured a group of teenagers at a drive-in theater. As a movie played in the background, the focus shifted to their camaraderie, laughter, and shared moments, all underscored by the presence of Coca-Cola.

The message was clear: Coke was an integral part of these quintessential American experiences.

Another commercial depicted a family on a beach vacation. As waves crashed and children played, the camera captured a moment of the parents sharing a Coke, emphasizing the beverage's role in familial bonding and leisure.

Yet another showcased a bustling diner scene, with the jukebox playing and patrons engaged in cheerful conversations. Amidst this, a waitress served Coca-Cola, reinforcing its position as a staple in everyday American life.

These commercials were more than mere product placements—they were vignettes of the idealized American life of the 1950s.

The shift to television allowed Coca-Cola to not just tell, but show its association with joy, leisure, and community.


portrait of Khrushchev
© History Oasis

The "Sign of Good Taste" campaign, while primarily focused on domestic audiences, inadvertently projected an image of American abundance, leisure, and consumerism—a stark contrast to the austerity and state-controlled narratives often associated with the Soviet Union.

Coca-Cola's commercials, featuring cheerful gatherings at drive-ins, beach outings, and family picnics, showcased not just a product, but a way of life—one that was perceived as free, aspirational, and deeply rooted in capitalist values.

These visual narratives presented a democratic society where individual choice (even in something as simple as a beverage) was celebrated—a tacit contrast to the collectivist ethos propagated by the Soviets.

However, the soft power of Coca-Cola transcended geopolitical boundaries.

In a notable 1959 incident, during a visit to the US, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev reportedly tasted Coca-Cola, a drink emblematic of the very capitalist values his regime often decried. This clandestine sip symbolized the allure of Western consumer goods, even amongst those at the helm of the Communist world.

While Coca-Cola never overtly positioned itself against the Soviet model in its advertisements, the very ethos it promoted was in many ways antithetical to the Soviet propaganda of the time.

The brand's ubiquity and its association with a particular version of the "American Dream" made it a soft power icon in the ideological battle between the East and the West.


Sing of Good Taste Ad in 1958
Source: The Coca-Cola Company

As Coca-Cola ventured beyond American shores, the challenge was not just to sell a beverage, but to adapt a distinctly American brand ethos to a myriad of cultures, histories, and tastes.

The "Sign of Good Taste" campaign, with its quintessential American imagery, was recalibrated to resonate with audiences from diverse geographies, often intertwining Coca-Cola's global identity with local nuances.

In Japan, for instance, Coca-Cola commercials retained their signature optimism but incorporated traditional settings like cherry blossom viewings or festivals. Instead of American diners or beach picnics, the backdrop might be a family gathering for Hanami, subtly connecting the universal joy of a shared Coke with deeply-rooted Japanese traditions.

In Brazil, the vibrancy of Carnival and the nation's passionate love for football became focal points. Commercials might depict a jubilant samba parade or friends watching a soccer match, infusing the act of enjoying Coca-Cola with a distinctly Brazilian exuberance.

In India, a country rich with festivals and traditions, Coca-Cola weaved itself into narratives of familial bonding and celebration. Diwali, the festival of lights, or Holi, the festival of colors, served as colorful backdrops where sharing a Coke became part of the communal joy and festivity.

Even in countries with a pronounced cafe culture, like France and Italy, Coca-Cola advertisements highlighted moments of leisure, albeit in the romantic streets of Paris or the rustic Italian countryside, thereby aligning itself with the local tradition of pausing and savoring the moment.

Through these strategic adaptations, Coca-Cola showcased its remarkable ability to be both global and local. The "Sign of Good Taste" campaign, while rooted in American sensibilities, was agile enough to dance to different cultural tunes, emphasizing that while the setting might change, the universal joy associated with the brand remained a constant.

Like any major advertising endeavor from a historical period, the "Sign of Good Taste" campaign by Coca-Cola offers a unique lens through which we can understand the values, aspirations, and challenges of a bygone era.