Podcast & Book Reviews

December 4, 2023

Book Review | For God, Country, and Coca-Cola by Mark Pendergrast

Book Review | For God, Country, and Coca-Cola by Mark Pendergrast

This is an interesting and extended history of the Coca Cola company, detailing everything from its origin, business model, bottler relationships, and later its use in World Wars and battles with Pepsi. The book goes into detail about the famous Coca-Cola marketing, centred on an association with joy, a magic ingredient formula and a mystique around various benefits as an “elixir of life - a nerve tonic to cure the ills of man”. Over the decades Coca-Cola's branding appeared on billboards, several incarnations over decades in Times Square, lead Olympic sponsorships, World Cup finals in almost every sport and is the most widely placed product in the history of the Movie industry.

Some other interesting elements of the Coca-Cola story:

• Up/downstream partners did well: “everyone who touched {Coke} became wealthy, including bottlers, stockholders, wholesaling jobbers and those who provided trucks, bottles, pallets, dispensers and so on. Of course, such success fostered gratitude and devotion”

• Affordability: “From 1886 until the 1950s, Coca-Cola sold for a nickel a drink… it remains relatively inexpensive around the world.. an “affordable luxury” Coca-Cola has usually survived and even thrived during hard economic times”

• Low Production Cost: “Coca-Cola has always cost only a fraction of a cent per drink to produce.. like most patent medicines of its time it wasn’t a capital-intensive product: its manufacture was neither difficult nor laborious”

At the end of the book, its author Mark Pendegrast gives an interesting anecdote about publishing the bona fide famous formula and explicit instructions on how to directly manufacture it. Speaking to a Coca-Cola representative, asking what would happen if he handed over the formula:

He grinned. “Mark, let’s say this is your lucky day and that I happened to have a copy of that formula right here on my desk”

Handing Mark a phantom document, “There you go. Now what are you going do with it?”

“Well, I’d put it in my book”


“Somebody might decide to go into business in competition with Coca-Cola”

“Fine. Now what? What are they going to charge for it? How are they going to distribute it? How are they going to advertise it? See what I am driving at? We’ve spent over a hundred years and untold amounts of money building the equity of that brand name. Without our economies of scale and our incredible marketing system, whoever tried to duplicate our product would get nowhere, and they’d have to charge too much. Why would anyone go out of their way to buy Yum-Yum, which is really just like Coca-Cola but costs more, when they can buy the Real Thing anywhere in the world?

“I couldn’t think of a thing to say”

Link to Book

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