New York City commuters and tourists are getting a glimpse of Coke’s groundbreaking new 3D robotic sign in Times Square. The six-story digital spectacular features 1,760 independently moving LED screens that create an unprecedented multisensory experience for passers-by.

Did you know that Coca-Cola has been in Times Square – widely considered to be both the outdoor advertising capital of the world and a massive melting pot of cultures – for 97 years? For nearly a century, the high-visibility Manhattan intersection has provided Coca-Cola with an ideal spot to catch the public's eye. It’s a place where 40 million people from all over the world naturally congregate each year, so a Coca-Cola sign has always been a natural fit.

Our continuous presence in Times Square qualifies as one of the world’s longest-running billboards – and is a big part of why the iconic crossroads has earned a reputation as the home of 24-hour marketing.

Times Square early 1920s
One of the first Coca-Cola signs in Times Square from the early-1920s.

Signs of the Times (Square)

The Coke sign in Times Square has evolved over the years, consistently pushing the innovation envelope. Our first billboard was installed in 1920 at 49th and Broadway, on top of the Brill Building. Three years later, we brought a new dimension by adding neon lighting. The 75 ft. by 100 ft. landmark flashed the message "Drink Coca-Cola, Delicious and Refreshing" and was the second-largest electric sign in the world at the time.

Times Square 1930

1930

1934 Times Square

1934

In 1932, the Coca-Cola sign moved to the 47th street location and featured a soda jerk in uniform for Coca-Cola. In the ‘40s and ‘50s, the sign featured three messages before taking a simplified approach in the ‘60s with a circular sign and the tagline “The Pause that Refreshes.”

1944 Times Square

1944

1991 Times Square

1991

The 1991 Times Square sign featured a $3 million display with the world's largest Coca-Cola bottle. It was the only Times Square billboard with a daytime and evening performance, as 12,000 neon and incandescent lights powered up to add to the nighttime show.

Times Square 2004
2004

That sign had a remarkable 13-year run before being replaced in 2004 with high-tech 3D advertising sculpture featuring 32 LED screens broadcasting a variety of digital graphics. To commemorate the 100th anniversary of Times Square and the Coca-Cola bottler in New York, the sign featured a three-minute audio and video tribute featuring the New York City landscape and Coca-Cola images from the last 80 years. 

The new sign unveiled this week builds on Coke’s legacy of engaging and innovative outdoor advertising, which dates back to our pioneering use of painted wall signs at prominent intersections in the 1890s and has included the launch of other iconic spectaculars in cities around the world – from our hometown of Atlanta, to Tokyo, to Sydney. In the early-1950s, Coca-Cola installed a towering neon sign at Piccadilly Circus in London. Five years later, a handful of executives lobbied to take it down. But an artfully worded letter penned by then Coca-Cola Advertising Director Delony Sledge convinced the powers at be to leave it up.

Here’s a passage from the 1959 letter, which alluded to the Times Square sign in its last line. It was featured many years later in an internal Coca-Cola publication titled The Power of Presence.

“I think it would be perfectly fair to say that an ordinary person is one who does ordinary things in an ordinary way, and that an extraordinary person is one who does extraordinary things in an extraordinary way… If we, in presenting Coca-Cola to our consumers, are content to do ordinary things in an ordinary way, we must of necessity be content to become, and remain, an ordinary product. If, on the other hand, we determine to do extraordinary things in an extraordinary way, we are perfectly safe in assuming that we will create, in the minds of our consumers, an image of an extraordinary product. Many years ago in the United States, Coca-Cola chose the latter route, and I believe the character and prestige enjoyed today (and maintained even in the fact of fiercest competition) is the result of this choice.”

I hope you’ll join me in raising an ice-cold Coca-Cola to celebrate the latest extraordinary marketing feat by an extraordinary brand.

Ted Ryan is director of heritage communications at The Coca-Cola Company.