World of Coke, Part 1…


By Shawn Robare

So by “next week” I guess I really meant almost-a-month.  I didn’t plan on getting sick twice in the past month, not to mention the latter bout lasting for almost two weeks straight.  Stupid Bronchitis.   Anyway, I’m still hacking up a lung, but I believe I can think straight enough to write about the World of Coke…

As I mentioned in the last post, the wife and I made our first couple trips to the World of Coke here in Atlanta this past November and I had no idea how much of a weird effect it’d have on me.  For all intents and purposes I cut myself off of carbonated soft drinks a couple years ago, only breaking my vow of non-soda when I see a new variety or something along the line of the recent Pepsi Throwback products.  When we hit the World of Coke museum I was also preparing myself to indulge in their insane 60-odd flavor tasting room, hoping to sample some interesting concoctions from all over the globe.  But before I get to that I thought I’d talk a little bit about the museum and the self guided tours offered by Coca Cola. One of the main reasons we chose to visit was that we were looking to spend the day in the city and we wanted to hit something in addition to the Georgia Aquarium, but we didn’t want to go broke in the process.  At $15 per person, admission into the museum is only a little bit more expensive than going to see a movie these days, so it seemed like a fun, cheap way to spend the morning.  We were also sort of curious about the new WoC building since the last time we were in this part of Atlanta it was still under construction.  The area it self is pretty nice.  In addition to the interesting architecture of the building (including a wild three-story-tall coke bottle suspended in an adjoining glass structure – not pictured below), there’s a pretty decent-sized grassy park area in the rear of the museum (sort of in between the WoC and the aquarium) that looks like it would be great for picnics downtown.

I can’t speak for the previous location, but the design and layout of the new building is pretty nice, though there are some annoying traffic issues.   Basically, when you enter the museum there are three queuing areas before you’re left to your own devices for the two self-guided tours, gallery and soda tasting areas.  The first room is potentially the most boring as it’s the only official queuing area with only a few statues and some flat screen TVs talking up the importance of Coke.  The second room is an interesting exhibit of Coke signage, as well as a couple cases of antique memorabilia (and some Coke-inspired paintings by Norman Rockwell), where a Coke tour guide shares some trivia and gives an overview of what to expect in the museum.  Though this area is basically another way to corral the visitors for a bit, there are a ton of things to keep your attention including a couple of awesome vintage Coke machines…

After a fifteen minute spiel on the virtues of soda advertising the crowd is ushered into another room, a decent sized theater that acts as the third and final queue before you get to explore the museum.   The theater features short animated film called Inside the Happiness Factory, which is a much longer version of the weird Coke commercial that aired continuously in movie theaters a couple years ago.  Basically the whole thing is a fantastical take on what happens after you put a quarter (how long has it been since you could score a Coke for a quarter) into a Coke machine and the insane process that the bottle goes through before it’s vended to the customer.  Propaganda at its finest, the film is sort of mind-melting when you try and consider the target audience and the process behind the story and character design.  Honestly, this thing is all over the place, but instead of shooting for an upbeat, broad bit of schmaltziness (like the I’d-like-to-buy-the-world-a-Coke campaign of the early 70s) you can see the creators trying to specifically target all sorts of age groups and interests.  There’s some weird Gary Larsen-esque Farside-style humor in a sequence that involves snowmen being put into chipper-shredders to cool a Coke bottle right alongside some Blue Collar Comedy Tour style hick humor featuring two bumbling guy’s guys.   The overall character design is very alien in nature (think Close Encounters mixed with the Thumb Tech Deck figures) that evokes the custom vinyl toy movement.  There’s weird sexual innuendo, a giant slug in what I can only describe as flying bondage attire, and inexplicable anthropomorphic furry lips on spiked dog leashes.   Now I’m not saying I’m an authority on what does and doesn’t make for audience-bridging pop culture, but I’m really surprised at how “on board” the company seems to be with this campaign.  There’s even an official comic book!  Well, I guess if Max Headroom managed to capture the hearts and minds of walks of like 25 years ago, then lollipop sucking, baton-twirling thumb-women have a shot…

The first time the wife and I sat though it we were sort of left in a daze of shock and awe.  I do have to say though, that upon future visits to the museum this short film becomes just this side of unbearable as you have to pass through the theater to get to the museum so you have to watch it every time you go.   It’s sort of commendable in that it appears that Coca Cola took a cue from Disney theme parks in the crowd control and flow department, but unlike Disney you’re sort of punished upon repeat visits.

Anyway, after the film ends you’re escorted into a very bright atrium that opens up to the various sections of the museum.  On the ground floor there are three sections, a meet and greet photo-op area for the Coca Cola polar bear characters (again in the best Disney fashion), and two self-guided tour opportunities.  One of the tours takes you through the history of the brand, beginning in a recreation of an 19th century drug store/soda fountain and continuing on through a variety of Coke highlights including antique bottles and merchandising, international signage and brands, and artifacts from Coke’s various sponsorships (including the Olympics and the on-board Coke dispenser used by NASA on space missions.)  The highlight of this tour was what I like to call the Wall of Awesome…

…that features around a 100 different bottles/cans/cartons of Coca Cola brand beverages from all over the world and all throughout the company’s history.  I’m a huge fan of branding and package design so it was awesome to get a chance to stroll back in time to see vintage cans of Surge, Cherry Coke, Tab, and OK, as well as bottles of Mello Yello, Mister Pibb, and the small old school Styrofoam-paper-wrapped bottle of Diet Coke.   Noticeably absent from the wall was a can of New Coke, but there is one hiding in a display elsewhere in the museum.  The second tour focuses on the mechanics of bottling and distribution with areas of working equipment that’s busy packing cases and mechanically carrying bottles of Coke up to the tasting area (more on that in a later post.) The second floor of the museum features four areas including two more theaters, a gallery, and the coveted tasting area. 

The gallery features, from what I can gather, is a rotating selection of Coke-inspired artwork as well as two other exhibits, a mini, multi-media display that covers the New Coke controversy and a recreation nook with Coke-inspired furniture and a collection of Coca Cola pins.  Then there are the two theaters, one in a separate room that features a very zany 3-D film complete with wind and water spritzing effects, and a second that more open and features reels of various Coca Cola commercials from both around the world and throughout the last 60 or so years.  Again, you can so see Disney’s influence in the 3-D film which tries it’s best to mimic the experience of the 3-D films at the main Disney theme parks (the Bug’s Life flick at Animal Planet, the Muppets flick at Hollywood Studios, the Honey I shrunk the Audience flick at Epcot, and Disney’s Philharmagic at the Magic Kingdom.)  Unfortunately, instead of focusing on entertainment the film is yet another sledge-hammer-to-the-head advertisement.  By this point the museum was completely living up to my expectation of being strung out on Coca Cola propaganda.  As much as I love branding, it’s kind of draining to sit through hours of programming like this. Luckily Coke saves the best experience for last, the Tasting Area.

In part 2 of this look at the World of Coke I’m going to delve into the overall tasting area experience…

  • Paxton Holley

    First of all, welcome back Shawn. I really do hope you are feeling better. Second, I have been wanting to go to the World of Coke exhibit for YEARS. I used to live in Birmingham, AL which is only 3 hours away but I never went. Now I\’m 6 hours away here in Fla and it\’s harder to get a trip mounted to go up there. Especially since we have no friends that live in Atlanta anymore. I got to get it done, man. But this review will \”"scratch that itch\”" for the time being. I can\’t wait to read about your tasting adventures. I can only imagine the tasting room was similar to Epcot\’s Coke Cool Zone, but times 1000.

  • Egon

    i saw some stickers on ebay 170452316394 & i wondered if youve got them..