The “COKE” Wars: Which side are YOU on?

Throughout time and history, there have been some legendary feud’s and rivalries! Shakespeare had the Capulets and The Montague’s, while the American Appalachians had The Hatfield’s and McCoys, and on a more personal level there was Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton (which is also a great musical)!

But! There is one legendary rivalry that has personally touched and involved all of us through the decades and even generations!

The Soda Wars! It actually all began in 1886, when Pharmacist John S. Pemberton created the original recipe and formula for his new soft drink, “Coca Cola”

Thirteen Years later , Chemist / Drug Store owner, Caleb Bradham created “Pepsi Cola” And, interestingly enough, If you scrutinize the recipes, they appear very different, but when you taste the two products they taste remarkably the same!

However, by 1899 Coca Cola was selling over one million gallons a year of their “Great Refresher”!

Pepsi had a lot ground to make up and a lot of Pepsi to sell! And so began the greatest marketing  feud in Madison Ave. history!

As the 20th century unfurled Coke and Pepsi locked horns and have been in near mortal combat ever since! If Pepsi ran a large B&W print ad, Coke would run a bigger one in color. If Coke bought a billboard on Madison Ave, Pepsi would buy two! You get the drill! And the battle would seem to escalate each year as both bottlers  introduced a new slogan and campaign! I.e. Pepsi would proclaim “Pepsi, for those who think young” or “It’s the Pepsi generation” While Coke was proclaiming “Coke! It’s the real thing” or “Have a Coke and a smile”

Most of both Coke and Pepsi’s ad budget’s were spent on billboard and print advertising with an occasional T.V. or radio “Jingle! But in 1963 Coke introduced their new slogan that will be galvanized with Coca Cola forever! “Things go better with Coca Cola” We bet your singing it Right Now!

And with good reason, owing to the brainchild of one man, Bill Backer, a young advertising executive at McCann Erickson. It was 1965 and Backer understood the reach and power of popular music and the artists who created it !  While Pepsi had  branded their young audience “The Pepsi Generation” The best Coke could do is cut a “product placement” deal with The Ozzie and Harriet Show and watched their sales to Teens and Young adults plummet, until Backer put his plan into action!

Backer believed that “Things Go better with Coca Cola” was more than a Slogan or Jingle, Backer thought it could be a  SONG!  At first Backer was met with resistance as he approached various music acts he knew, until he spoke with The Limelighters! ( a folksy quartet, trying to break out of coffee houses and hit the Bigtime) Even though they were singing about Coke they recognized the real value of hearing their name and voices on the radio 2 or 3 times an hour. Each of these 30, 60, or 90 second ads would come with a voice over that proudly stated “Here are The Limelighters for Coca Cola! And then you heard something that sounded exactly like The Limelighters current single, except they we’re singing the words “Things Go better with Coca Cola” Did it work? You ask? Yes! Overnight, everywhere The Limelighters Coke ad was playing, listeners were requesting “The new Limelighters record”

Backer didn’t waste any time, he started making calls and within days he recruited the Great Ray Charles to record his version of what Backer called his new song / Campaign “Swing The Jingle”

Like The Limelighters, Radio Stations  Jumped on the Ray Charles recording but keep in mind these recordings aren’t Really records they’re Advertisements! Backer realized he needed to do something fast,  so he pressed a few hundred copies and handed them out to local Coca Cola bottlers as give – always  when you bought a six-pack of Coke! Meanwhile Bill Backers phone began  ringing off the hook with representatives of every major music star in the world wanting to “Swing The Jingle”

Get this, waiting on-line to record “Cokes new song” are The Supremes, Jan and Dean, Tom Jones, Aretha, Leslie Gore, The Moody Blues and on and on! Between the Giveaways and eventual sales of these “Singles” The Coca Cola bottling Co. sold hundreds of thousands of copies! It’s important to note that a great deal of the campaign success is owed to the fact that Backer insisted that the recordings were done in the same studio’s, using the same great musicians and background singers that appear on the artist’s most recent hit! For many of us young, budding musicians and pop music Super Fans we’d hear these “Coke Ads” and wonder out loud “How’d they do that”?

And to this day we remain impressed with the quality of these “Spots” Keep in mind most of these recordings were done at the end of a session when the artist and musicians had put in a full day, or night and were ready to quit and go home! An idea like this would be impossible to pull off today, but between 1965 and 1969 we’d turn on our radio and hear THIS!

“Oh my God, ARETHA? Yes, and just as we thought it couldn’t get cooler, we heard this new duet:

In this spot, it’s virtually impossible to tell it apart from one of Tom Jones greatest hits:

And it went on and on with nearly every artist we loved, coast to coast and around the world, like our favorite surfin duet Jan & Dean.

“Veteran Cosmic Rockers” The Moody Blues. at their Moodiest!

We hope your as impressed as we are with the quality and accuracy of these ‘mini records’, AND YES Coca Cola enjoyed a 40% increase in sales to their coveted Teen and Young Adult demographic!

Apparantly, Things Reeealy do go better with COKE!

Why not enjoy a Coke and one more from the Everly Brothers!


  1. The “Limelighters” WOW!! Brought me back to my FOLK ROOTS!!! As I read your piece I admit I could not remember the Jingles/Songs promoting Coke -A-Cola but when I played the tunes I COULD REMEMBER…VERY COOL!! I do not recall the “Moody Blues” promo on the radio but it IS MY FAVORITE here.
    I admit that as far back in time as I can go I was always a COKE fan. I still only enjoy Coke in BOTTLES though. It is JUST THE BEST…ALUMINUM DOES NOT MAKE THE GRADE. The Aretha/Ray Charles version is the other one I do remember.
    good stuff….wood

    • Hey Woody,
      Yeah, an ice cold Coke IN A BOTTLE on a hot So. Calif. afternoon was truly one of life’s great experience’s!
      Meanwhile, for us, it was the Tom Jones and Jan and Dean spots we remember best and thought sounded so much like the real records….C’est la Vie!
      But Jeeze we loved listening to all of them!
      Time to “Grab a Coke and a smile”!

      Thanx Wood!

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