When the Coca-Cola Company Failed Math and History

In an average year, the Coca-Cola Company spends billions of dollars advertising its brands and its products. Some of those ads are iconic. You may be old enough to remember their “I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke” jingle, the polar bears, the “Have a Coke and a Smile” campaign, and the Share a Coke bottles. Those are all memorable and effective ads. Suffice it to say that Coke is usually very good when it comes to marketing.

But there are definitely exceptions — especially when the company markets its other brands. Most notably, probably, is the Fanta ad below, released in Germany in 2015.

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One of Coke’s many products is Fanta, a fruit-flavored soft drink that isn’t all that popular in the United States, but it is rather common elsewhere, particularly in Africa, where it’s the second-most popular soft drink after Coke itself, according to Slate. It’s also popular in Europe and specifically, in Germany, where it was first invented. The ad above celebrated 75 years of Fanta, The idea behind the campaign was to invoke feelings of nostalgia by those who grew up drinking Fanta. And that’s clear from the ad, which, about 34 seconds in, references the “Good Old Times” when Fanta was a brand new product. Putting aside the fact that Coke was apparently targeting octogenarians with this ad campaign — hardly a huge cohort of soda drinkers! — the ad makes sense, at least at first. Nostalgia can definitely be a great way to sell your old-timey product.

But Coke probably should have double-checked their math and their history textbooks. If they had, they would have realized that to have 75 years of Fanta as of 2015, the product had to debut in 1941. And there was a lot more going on in Germany in 1941 than the development of a new soft drink — some very terrible things that should never, ever be called the “Good Old Times.”


Coke, again, should have known better. The fact that Fanta was created during World War II wasn’t a coincidence, but rather a side effect of the war. As The Express notes, the ad itself admitted as much, stating that “75 years ago, resources for our beloved Coke in Germany were scarce.” That was due, in large part, to an American trade embargo that (among other things) greatly restricted the amount of Coca-Cola syrup exported to Germany. The local German Coke subsidiary decided to create a drink using locally available ingredients like sugar beets, apple pomace, and whey, and it worked enough for Fanta to be born. It became very popular in Germany soon thereafter. And that gave Fanta a less-than-positive reputation. Because the drink was developed while Germany was controlled by Hitler, and because its invention was the direct result of anti-Nazi trade embargos, the brand is sometimes considered Nazi cola. Per Eater, “people even go so far as to say that orange Fanta was created by the Third Reich itself because no other fizzy beverages were available during the war.” Releasing an ad that highlighted that association — and in a positive way — well, that was just plain dumb.

Nevertheless, the ad somehow got created and released. The public backlash was quick and furious, and Coke pulled the ad just as quickly — and apologized.

Bonus fact: One of Fanta’s flavors is common in the United States — but you wouldn’t know it, because it’s no longer called Fanta. In 1959, the West German subsidiary of Coke developed “Fanta Klare Zitrone,” or “Fanta Clear Lemon,” a lemon-lime flavored Fanta that was, as you probably figured out, clear. As one Coke bottler notes, two years later, the product was introduced in the United States, but under a new name: Sprite.

From the Archives: Where Coke and Pepsi Compete for Burps: From the story, “The Tzotzil people believe that when you burp, you release the Devil from inside you — and, therefore, one should burp heartily and often.”