The Real Things – Modern Santa and Mexican Coke

Coca-Cola was in the news multiple times this year, with much ado about the mythic “secret formula.” In February, PRI radio show This American Life investigated a story that the secret formula to Coca-Cola had actually been uncovered in a 1979 newspaper article. In early December, Coca-Cola moved the original secret formula from the vault at SunTrust Banks, where it had been for 86 years, to a “World of Coca-Cola” museum in downtown Atlanta.

And a December 1st Wall Street Journal article reported that 2011 holiday edition white Coke cans, featuring polar bears, were going to be pulled from shelves earlier than originally planned. The main reason cited was consumer confusion with Diet Coke cans. One side note was that some consumers believed that the Classic Coke in the white cans tasted different. This would not surprise the branding and package design community, as research has proven that consumers cannot always separate product from package. Coca-Cola responded by posting a “fact sheet” to help consumers distinguish between the two varieties.

But the Holiday season always brings back ruminations on one of the most successful branding and advertising campaigns of the last century. If Coca-Cola advertising did not in fact define the modern image of Santa Clause, as Coca-Cola brags, the company was certainly instrumental in propagating the image to the masses. The urban legend Grinch,, debunks the “Coca-Cola Created Santa” myth to a degree, citing a short 1927 New York Times article, which claims that Santa Clauses in the city had become very similar to one another by then.

Four years later, in 1931, Coca-Cola introduced a Santa Claus created by artist Haddon Sundblom, which would become the standard for the next 30 years in frequent magazine advertising and marketing campaigns.

It’s certainly no secret that Coca-Cola in the U.S. uses corn syrup in its formula, and that Mexican Coca-Cola still contains 100% cane sugar and is still sold in glass bottles. Many devotees seek this product out at Mexican specialty food stores, but the product is becoming more widely available. Here in Pennsylvania, for instance, Mexican Coke has been spotted in CostCo stores and at local beer distributors.

The biggest erosion of the consumer Coca-Cola experience has come from the convenience trend. The public has been tricked into believing that a plastic bottle or can of Coke can be reasonably enjoyed anywhere anytime. Sad to say, consumers expectations have been lowered enough that they accept the quick degradation of temperature after opening — and the consequent degradation of experience, or pleasure.

So, my holiday gift to you is: Treat yourself and rediscover the highest expression of the Coca-Cola experience. Follow this forgotten formula to the letter and you won’t be disappointed. The crispness of flavor in the original brand experience is still unmatched. It’s quite different from what you’ve come to know.


1 Glass Bottle of Mexican Coca-Cola (U.S. Coca-Cola, if unavoidable)
5 Ice Cubes, standard size
1 Unchilled Glass, wider at the top than at the bottom
1 Healthy Dose of Nostalgia

Chill bottle overnight to 36 to 38 degrees Fahrenheit. This step ensures that your Coke will not be watered down by excessive ice melt. Add ice cubes to glass. Open bottle with bottle opener (Mexican bottles!). Pour Coke into glass slowly as to not create too much fizzy head. If fizz dies down and leaves the liquid more than a quarter-inch below the rim, top off glass to within a quarter-inch of the rim. Wait five minutes for liquid to chill completely.

Take a healthy first gulp. Swallow. Enjoy. You’re welcome.

That is the real thing.