While visiting Atlanta, my wife and I decided to visit a landmark of American culture and heritage, a symbol of freedom and hope everywhere - yeah, you guessed it - The World of Coca-Cola.
In our tour, we were immersed in every marketing campaign since Coca-Cola was invented in 1886, convinced that Coca-Cola cures cancer and that the company virtually invented Santa Clause. We were also told the story of its humble beginnings in a pharmacy in Atlanta, where it was invented by John Pemberton after the onset of prohibition and popularity of soda fountains, and that it originally was served with medicinal purpose. A few years later, a businessman by the name of Asa Candler bought the formula for Coca-Cola for $2300, and went on to market Coca-Cola with incredible success.
Now in this era of uproar over Corporate America and Wall Street bonuses and bank bailouts, I could easily see someone listening to this story of Coca-Cola and think, "Pemberton (the inventor of Coca-Cola) got ripped off! I can't believe he only got $2300 for his formula when this schmuck (Candler) went on to make millions upon millions of dollars off of it!"
In fact, that was the first thought I had (even though business/accounting/finance/marketing is my passion). Then I realized - the only reason Coca-Cola has ANY VALUE AT ALL is because of the brilliant marketing of a businessman. It's easy to look back and think that Pemberton got ripped off, because Candler and his successors turned Coca-Cola into one of the most recognizable brands in the world. If Pemberton had continued selling it in his pharmacy nothing probably would have ever come of it - considering that he got a pretty good deal! I don't want to discredit his invention but I don't think there is any doubt that Coca-Cola only has value because of the brand that has been created around it. I mean... it's just some syrup mixed with carbonated water.
I think there is room for complaint that some of the inventors and dreamers and entrepreneurs seem to get the short end of the stick, when it's just the "businessmen" and "managers" who come in and reap all the benefit. I mean, the original designer of the Nike Swoosh, arguably one of the most recognizable logos in the entire world, was paid $35 for her freelance work! (Later she was given stock in Nike as gratitude, but still...) Either way, I think it's important to realize that often inventions and creations only truly have value when they are well managed and marketed.
I believe that good business gives back to the community just as much as any charitable organization, that efficiency, marketing and productivity is as important as creativity, research, and invention. It's easy to glaze over how much goes into the abundance of products and services we have to choose from and demonize those who get rewarded for it.