It has been made rather clear to me over the years just how much people love that original SURGE logo. As someone who (kind of) made the mistake of using the 1999 re-branded edition of the logo on the original SaveSURGE.org, I was often asked why I didn’t use the original SURGE logo. Not to make excuses, but the logo used on that site reflected what the brand was using at the time of its demise. I guess it was just stuck in my head.
But thankfully, Coke really did things right with the return of the brand. They used the original logo in all its glory.
The man behind that beloved creation is Tom Cox. He designed the original SURGE logo (not to mention some other amazing logos while working for Coca-Cola). Tom recently discussed the process of designing the logo on his blog.
Of course, SURGE fans want to know as much as possible about our beloved brand. So I reached out to Mr. Cox and he was kind enough to delve deeper into both the logo and the creation of the brand itself.
SaveSURGE.org: How/when did you get started working with Coca-Cola?
Tom Cox: I was very young when I started at Coke. When I started there in 1992, people still smoked in their offices. I was really just a young punk 2 years out of college and through a family friend got an interview. I didn’t have a design degree. I had a Bachelors of Journalism/Advertising degree from the University of Georgia. After graduation I became obsessed with design and what it could do for a brand or movement.
I got the job because I knew how to use the Mac to produce packaging artwork for printing. Thankfully, I was too young to know better, and once I was in just started designing stuff whether I was asked to or not. It paid off when art directors and brand managers noticed and before long all I was doing was designing for brands. While there, I designed the Always Coca-Cola logo, the look of the Super Bowl for Coca-Cola, of course Surge, and worked on many other brands throughout the company.
SS: When you were assigned to create the first SURGE logo, what were you told about the brand? Did they ask you for a specific color scheme or did you get some creative license?
TC: I think this is part of the secret to the initial success Surge had and why it created such a bond with that initial core audience. For most brand design or redesign projects, a brand team will do their research and development and then go to a designer or design firm and deliver a brief about what they have learned about the target market and how the brand is to be positioned in the market.
The great thing about Surge, I was brought into the project at the very beginning. I traveled right along with the brand team across the country to focus groups as we started conversations with teenage guys about brand positioning, names, tasting the product variations, colors. I was even doing quick concepts for packaging for various names and color schemes that we would show the groups and get reaction. So design had a seat at the table for so many of those early decisions. I credit Scott Graham, who was the head of New Products at the time for this team structure. It’s rare, especially back in the 90’s, for design to be involved so early in a project.
SS: How many ideas did you go through before settling on what became the official logo?
TC: Well like I said before, at first we were testing various names before we ever locked in to Surge. So, looking back over my original files, I would estimate we tested around 20 different names with loose graphic concepts, before we focused on Surge as the name. From there we had a pretty good idea of what we thought would connect with the consumers, and we quickly honed in on 4 different directions I called Diner, Steamroller, Sun and Surf. We did extensive testing with those four directions and then I crafted Sun into what I called Blast, which became the official Surge logo. So overall, from loose concepts to final solution, I cranked out a ton of Surge variations. Oh, and then when we launched in Norway and couldn’t get the rights for the Surge name, so I had to modify the logo for Urge.
SS: Over the years, the informal polling we’ve done seems to show that the original logo was much more popular than the re-branded version that came out in later years. What do you think it was about that original logo that won so many hearts?
TC: Well, unfortunately, I had nothing to do with the rebranded version. By then the brand was in the hands of the giant corporate hairball machine that is more concerned with making a marketing splash in a convenience store than it is with actually connecting and building a relationship with a person.
I think the connection for the whole brand was that it was just trying to be real and authentic. From the advertising, to the packaging to the logo. It wasn’t fantasy action and computer graphics like Dew, it was just normal everyday hand-crafted spontaneous fun.
SS: What was your reaction when the SURGE brand started to fade away?
TC: Honestly, it was sickening. For whatever reasons, the company and the bottlers didn’t support it. Surge launched just a few years ahead of the whole energy drink craze and it could have been easily transitioned into that market, but that’s not how Coke worked back then.
SS: Were you surprised at the number of people who wanted it back?
TC: Yes. I first noticed some of the fansites a few years ago and thought, that’s nice. I mean you can find a fansite for just about anything. But to see the growth in numbers and the intensity of passion for a brand that hadn’t been around for so long, was simply amazing.
SS: What’s the best part of seeing SURGE back on the market?
TC: Well the little bit of attention I am getting from this doesn’t suck. If my career were a country music album, one of the songs would be “I was in-house design when in-house design wasn’t cool.” Beyond that, it is extremely rewarding to know something I worked so hard on made a real connection with people.
But the best part for me is to have my son and daughter be able to taste Surge. When I started working on Surge, my wife and I were expecting our first child. He started college this year.
The images in this post are all courtesy of Tom Cox.