The Real Reason The Coca-Cola Logo Is Red

Coca-Cola: that bottled carbonated beverage that people continue to guzzle by the liter and that you can also use to strip rust off bolts (true story, as CNET reports). Yes, grab an ice-cold Coke, the stuff that used to contain coke, i.e., cocaine, in its original 1885 pharmaceutical formula, as the National Institute on Drug Abuse says. Also, polar bears, Santa Claus, and other Nordic dwellers dig it, if advertisements are to be believed.

Believe it or not, that brings us to Coca-Cola's signature color: red. Coke's white cursive atop a red background can probably be recognized by 95% of the globe's population, give or take. But why red? Is it simply that it's a well-known fact among advertisers that the color red "attracts attention in an emotional context," as a study in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience (posted at the National Library of Medicine) reports? There's a reason why red is associated with so many intense experiences: rage, passion, love.

So is Coke red because of all the sugar in your blood after your drink it? Nope, it really is because of Santa Claus. The Coca-Cola company's original, ingenious and family-focused ads from the 1930s featured Santa being served Coca-Cola by elves, offering a toast to viewers of the ad, saying things like, "My hat's off to the pause that refreshes," and so on (seen on Click Americana.) The connection between Coke and Christmas, and the color red, stuck.

Santa Claus, alcohol, and big red barrels

Aside from the association with Santa, there's another potential reason Coca-Cola landed on red. As Reader's Digest says, when Coke contained coke, it used to be sold in drug stores alongside medicine. There were apparently just big barrels of the stuff hanging around inside the late-1800s version of Walgreen's. In order to differentiate the product from alcohol, which was also sold in drug stores (true to their "drug" name), Coca-Cola painted their product's barrels red. There might not have been market research at the time to tell the company that red attracted people's attention, but we can assume they noticed.

And let's be clear: if any company was going to notice par excellence advertising methods, it was Coca-Cola. A quick stroll through Marketing 91's and The Drum's overview of Coke's ad campaigns reveals slogans and commercials as clever as they are relentless, decade by decade. And all of them — 100% — employed strategic use of the color red. 1971's "Hilltop" commercial (posted on YouTube) featured a multinational crew of folks singing about buying Cokes for the world — keep an eye out for the red threaded throughout. The Coca-Cola polar bears have been in use since 1993, toting around red-labeled Coke bottles against snowy, pure white backgrounds. Another instance of world-peace-through-Coke campaigns featured Coke bottles in 2011's "Share a Coke" ad strung in a row and marked with names of family members.