Coca-Cola Capitalism (with bears)

Holiday decorations hit Mississippi grocery store shelves before Halloween this year—but I’ll spare you my soapbox sermon. This year, since our fall symposium had just barely ended, I couldn’t help but pay attention to one essential element of commercial holiday cheer: the Coca-Cola Polar Bear.

Surprisingly, Coke only introduced these bears in 1993 as part of the “Always Coca-Cola” marketing campaign. I remember this vividly since I lived in metro Atlanta during that time, where Braves baseball and Coca-Cola were hallmarks of everyday life.

The funny thing about Coke, though, is that you don’t need a connection to its hometown to feel warm and fuzzy about it. A polar bear conceived in 1993 can somehow transport you to a place and time you never actually experienced. A throwback glass bottle of the Southern soda—all the rage these days—conjures a nostalgia that I, who nursed only plastic two-liters and Big Gulps in my youth, can’t quite explain.


Bart Elmore began his symposium lecture, “Coca-Cola Capitalism, Cornucopia, and Corpulence”, with a similar line of questioning. In his words, “WTF?”

We can only assume this means, “What’s the formula?” As in, how did a drink that began as a ‘brain tonic’ (no, really) come to dominate the globe as well as our imaginations?

Watch here as Bart unravels the story of Coke, from its conception and marketing to its sourcing and selling. Bart teaches history at The Ohio State University and is author of Citizen Coke: The Making of Coca-Cola Capitalism.