Last week afforded me a unique opportunity to experience a moment in the history of Coca-Cola and connect with a singular manifestation of our flagship brand—a stark, six-foot-high painting of a Coke contour bottle by Andy Warhol.
Available for decades for a mere 5 cents, Coke’s signature bottle was depicted in multiple Warhol works, including this painting from 1962—the year I was born, coincidentally—that sold last week for $57.3 million. If you’re counting, that’s more than 1.1 billion nickels.
I was in New York for the auction, not to bid on the Warhol but to help represent Coca-Cola—both the brand and the company—and witness the event as this symbol of readily available refreshment for all was expected to attract bids in the neighborhood of $50 million. I knew I had to be there, in the room, to see and feel and experience the auction.
And what a spectacle it was! Long lines outside the door, despite the bone-chilling cold. Standing room only inside Christie’s, with people filling every chair. A palpable buzz of anticipation.
When the gavel came down, an anonymous, last-second bidder had agreed to pay $57.3 million for this iconic depiction of our iconic bottle. It was an ironic moment in some ways, seeing this symbol of Coca-Cola—the most widely enjoyed consumer product in history—go for such a princely sum.
And, yet, I think there was something telling in this peculiar barometer of Coca-Cola’s enduring brand value—a simple, black and white painting, done in flawless freehand, defining a moment in “pop art” history, attracting so much attention and selling for tens of millions of dollars.
As a Coca-Cola ambassador, I was certainly proud. And humbled. And deeply honored just to be associated with a beverage and a brand so well and thoroughly loved that, after 127 years, it continues to capture the hearts and imaginations of people all over the world, from every city and village and every walk of life.
Warhol, of course, was very much onto something. He understood both the specialness and ubiquity of Coca-Cola, expressing it in his art and his reflections on the world’s most popular soft drink. As Warhol put it so well:
“What’s great about this country is that America started the tradition where the richest consumers buy essentially the same things as the poorest. You can be watching TV and see Coca-Cola, and you know that the President drinks Coke, Liz Taylor drinks Coke, and, just think, you can drink Coke, too.”
Couldn’t have said it better myself.
Clyde Tuggle is Senior Vice President, Chief Public Affairs and Communications Officer at The Coca-Cola Company.