In a marriage of Big Red and Big Blue, the extensive marketing records of the Coca-Cola Company- from calendars created by Norman Rockwell to corporate memoranda to the famous commercial in which a chorus proclaims its desire to "teach the world to sing" - have been digitized in an online archive with the help of I.B.M.
The goal of the project, with an estimated cost of less than $5 million, is to make it easier for Coca-Cola employees, from the headquarters in Atlanta to local offices in more than 200 countries, to gain access to advertising and marketing material going all the way back to the first newspaper ad that appeared for the Coca-Cola soft-drink brand on May 29, 1886.
The digital archive, which has more than 24,000 items, has been operating for about a month; there is capacity for millions of images. Employees of Coca-Cola and its agencies can look at the material on their desktop computers through a link from the worldwide Coca-Cola intranet site.
The project suggests the degree of devotion to brand and corporate history at Coca-Cola, which was one of the first companies to hire its own corporate archivist and last year donated five decades of television commercials to the Library of Congress.
Recently, more marketers have joined Coca-Cola in mining their own advertising pasts as they seek ways to connect with contemporary consumers. Products like Jordache and Lee jeans, Life cereal, Mr. Peanut snacks, Timex watches and Volkswagen automobiles have all revived campaigns, characters or commercials.
The trend may gain more steam in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks, as American consumers increasingly demonstrate a yearning for what they deem to be the comforts of how life used to be - or how they perceive it was.
"I think we have a lot of assets that we have created over time that have messages that resonate in a contemporary format," said Philip F. Mooney, director of the Coca-Cola corporate archives, who joined other executives from Coca-Cola and I.B.M. in an interview last week to discuss the project.
There may be no company that has outdone Coca-Cola in selling heritage and history. For instance, the company's lemon-lime soft drink, Sprite, was named after a pixie-like character appearing in ads for the Coca-Cola brand in the 1930's and 1940's. Also, last month, the company introduced a commercial that presents for the first time an animated version of the Coca-Cola Santa Claus character created by the artist Hadden Sundblom in 1931.
"The brand asset is the single largest asset that differentiates Coca- Cola from its competition," said Clive Chajet, chairman at the Chajet Consultancy in New York, a corporate identity consultant. "There is not a substantial difference between Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Cola except in the brand image."
The digital archive collects video, print images and text documents. Searches can find background information from the dimensions of a painting to the director of a commercial; there is also data about rights and restrictions on use of materials along with cross-references to other archived items.
In a demonstration during the interview, a request to search for Rockwell found 56 items. They included a 1936 painting of a boy fishing; a 1985 commercial celebrating "classics" for Coca-Cola Classic, which featured a momentary glimpse of a Rockwell ad showing teenagers sharing a sundae; and a 1928 photograph of a Coca-Cola ad painted on a wall in Spain.
"Even though I work with this stuff every day, I never would have thought of that," Mr. Mooney said of the Spanish image.
Coca-Cola is among several companies working with I.B.M. to digitize and manage materials, a process known as digital asset management.
Most of I.B.M.'s clients have been media companies like the BBC and CNN television networks and Paramount.
"Even within the media industry, adoption rates are just getting ramped up," said David Farrell, I.B.M. manager for digital media solutions for North and South America, who is based in Atlanta. There is also potential among government agencies and retailers, along with consumer marketers, he said.
The items now in the collection include work for brands like Coca- Cola Classic, Diet Coke, Lilt, Minute Maid and Sprite, created by agencies including D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, part of the Bcom3 Group, and McCann-Erickson Worldwide Advertising, part of the McCann- Erickson World Group unit of the Interpublic Group of Companies. More recent material, from the last three years, is available through a separate intranet link.
Allison Fass, The New York Times. December 10, 2001
Copyright © 2001 The New York Times Company. All rights reserved.