A Coke and a Smile: From Trademark Violation to PR Win

The History

There are few brands as ubiquitous as Coca-Cola. The original product was invented in 1886 by John Stith Pemberton, an Atlanta-based pharmacist (and morphine addict). He was looking for an alternative to morphine, which he’d become addicted to after injuries incurred during the Civil War. His original formula was called “Dr. Tuggle’s Compound Syrup of Globe Flower,” with the active ingredient derived from the buttonbush, a toxic plant found in the eastern and southwestern regions of North America. He next began experimenting with coca and coca wines, eventually creating a recipe that contained extracts of kola nut and damiana,[1] which he called Pemberton’s French Wine Coca. Eventually he settled on a non-alcoholic version of the drink that included an extract from the coca leaves. Ultimately the cocaine was removed.

According to a 1988 New York Times article, Pemberton described his product as a “brain tonic and intellectual beverage.” The original recipe included coca with cocaine, but the narcotic was removed just after the turn of the century, according to company spokesmen. A non-narcotic
extract of the coca leaf is used in the resulting drink’s secret formula, which
lasts until today.

He sold his patented formula shortly before his death in 1888, and since then the company grew to sell more than 3,000 products under 500 brand names in 206 countries. Revenues in 2017 were $35.4 billion.

In August 2006, Michael Donnelly became group director of worldwide interactive marketing. Donnelly’s mission was to help Coke deliver marketing messages via social channels to a global audience.

Fast forward to now, when the Facebook fan page says they have more than 107 million followers. Something remarkable must have happened—and the story is a good one.

Facebook didn’t really have fan pages before 2007, when they introduced “brand pages.” But companies weren’t engaging customers at this point and it wasn’t until 2009 that companies started to experiment with special offers to consumers for “liking” their Facebook page. Donnelly and his team at Coca-Cola were trying to engage with their fans in a non-promotional relationship but hadn’t yet found an effective way to do this.

However, in August of 2008 a pair of young guys, Dusty Sorg and Michael Jedrzejewski, launched their own unofficial Coca-Cola Facebook page. On a whim, they’d decided to build a brand page and chose Coke, since one of them was holding a Coke bottle at the time.

Within four months of launching, the unofficial page racked up more than 1.9 million fans. This drew the attention of Michael Donnelly at TCCC (The Coca-Cola Company). He noticed this page’s difference from others that fans had started, and that it had shown incredibly rapid growth.

Facebook also noticed the unofficial owners of the page and notified TCCC that it was in violation of Facebook policy, as unaffiliated individuals couldn’t host a brand page. So TCCC could have asked Facebook to take the page down or several other options.

After careful deliberation, Michael Donnelly decided to have Sorg and Jedrzejewski come in and meet with their interactive marketing team. The rest is history. The pair were not ordered to take down the page; rather, Coca-Cola made them a part of the team and hired them for their creation. You can watch a Coke-sanctioned YouTube video that documented their journey and experience. (Click here.)

The page is now officially owned by TCCC and has grown by leaps and bounds to more than 107 million fans.

What a great action by TCCC! It seems they knew how to apply one of the natural laws of this universe. As L. Ron Hubbard wrote in his article entitled “GOODWILL,” in a section on Word of Mouth, “Word of mouth
comes from having numerous people in the field who are happy and cheerful and satisfied . . .

This certainly seems to characterize many Coke fans, who use the drink often and tout its praises to others.

Not Your Ferrari

Contrast this story with the case of a young Ferrari fan, Sammy Wasem, who at age 15 started a Ferrari fan page that would become one of the most popular car sites on Facebook. Six years later, he was in a legal battle with Ferrari where they sued Wasem and his father, arguing they’d misused the company’s trademark. Ferrari didn’t understand this natural law written by Mr. Hubbard in the same article: “Word of mouth is a superior form of
advertising to newspaper, radio and TV ads. People tend to believe their friends.”

Ferrari also didn’t seem to recognize what kind of goodwill and word of mouth was being generated for them on the internet at no cost. Facebook is a place where people go to see what their friends are up to. If they see a fan of Ferrari espousing the joys of owning one, that is a wonderful example of word of mouth.

Nutty Nutella

Then there’s Nutella. The chocolate-hazelnut spread’s parent company, Italy-based Ferrero, sent a cease-and-desist letter to World Nutella Day founder and organizer Sara Rosso. Due to this unwelcome response from the company, she was going to deactivate NutellaDay.com and close the seven-year-old event’s social-media channels. “I’ve seen the event grow from a few hundred food bloggers posting recipes to thousands of people tweeting about it, pinning recipes on Pinterest, and posting their own contributions on Facebook,” Rosso wrote. “There have been songs sung about it, short films created for it, poems written for it, recipes tested for it, and photos taken for it. The cease-and-desist letter was a bit of a surprise and a disappointment,” to say the least, and a public-relations nightmare for the company.

What a difference from The Coca-Cola Company response. These two latter companies were not applying what L. Ron Hubbard warned in that same article: “The word,’ whether good or bad, spreads like wildfire.”

Later the Nutella parent company did withdraw its legal action against Sara Rosso, saying it was just an automatic trademark protection. It may have
been too late to repair the PR damage done by their initial action, but at least they ultimately recognized their error and apologized.

Finally from the same article, “The amount of public demand for service and your future income are both largely dependent upon GOODWILL.”

When one understands and follows these natural laws, things expand and
conditions improve. When one doesn’t, things contract.

[1] damiana: a small shrub native to Mexico whose leaves are used in herbal medicine and in the production of a liqueur.


  1. Anderson, Chris. “6 Big Brands and How They Use Their Facebook Pages.” SmartBusinessTrends.com. Smart Business Trends, 1 Apr. 2013. Web. 1 June 2018.
  2. Parekh, Arjun. “Coca-Cola on Facebook & Coca-Cola VS Starbucks on Social Media.” SlideShare.net. LinkedIn Corporation, 20 Dec. 2016. Web. 1 June 2018.
  3. Coca-Cola United States page. Facebook.com. The Coca-Cola Company, n.d. Web. 1 June 2018.
  4. Bodoni, Stephanie, and Andy Hoffman. “Ferrari Fight Over Facebook Fan Page Tests Social Media Copyright.” InsuranceJournal.com. Wells Media Group, 27 Mar. 2014. Web. 1 June 2018.
  5. Griner, David. “Nutella Thanks Its Biggest Fan, Founder of World Nutella Day, by Sending Her a Cease and Desist.” Adweek.com. Adweek, 21 May 2013. Web. 1 June 2018.
  6. Strada, Maria. “The World Nutella Day will no longer be canceled. La Ferrrero: ‘Happy to have such fans.’” Chronicles, Corriere della Sera. Corriere.it. RCS Media Group, 21 May 2013. Web. 1 June 2018.


Let us hear your feedback. E-mail prosperity-magazine@wise.org

Issue: 18061306INT

Translate »
  • Contact Us

    Contact Us

Share This