Not often does a sign outside of Hollywood have such community acclaim, history, real estate relevance and cultural significance.
An iconic fixture on the Potts Point skyline, the Coca Cola sign is a sign of the changing face and agendas of the area. Political protests, real estate revolutions and controversial commercial moves have all played out with the facelifts of the long-standing symbol.
While new icons have risen, let’s revisit the history of the Kings Cross Coca-Cola sign, where pop culture, politics and people have been intersecting since the 70s.
The location: “The Gateway to Kings Cross”
The Coke sign arrived in 1974 just as the Kings Cross tunnel was being completed.
It sits on the corner of Darlinghurst Rd and William St at “The Gateway to Kings Cross”. Considered the largest billboard in the Southern Hemisphere at 41 metres long and 13 metres high, the sign is comprised of two sides – the right being the traditional red and white Coca-Cola sign and the left being a flex-faced sign that’s used to display the latest Coke campaigns.
The spot occupied by the sign is not only prime advertising real estate but also prime residential and commercial real estate. The building the sign is affixed to has transformed through the years too, changing from local watering holes, the Millennium Hotel and Kingsgate Hotel, to the residential high-rise dubbed “Zenith Residences.”
In recent years, the area has become a booming hot spot for those looking to enter or take the next step up in the Sydney property market – the recent sold properties speak for themselves. Like the real estate appeal of the area, the Kings Cross Coke sign has stood the test of time yet has not been immune to its own controversies.
2008: Protesters repurpose the Coca-Cola sign as a political platform
In coordination with other protests around the country, 2008 saw the Coke sign became a political platform for pro-Tibetan independence protesters who overshadowed the sign with a banner reading “Enjoy compassion, always Tibet” written in the same style of the script as the Coca-Cola brand. On the bottom of the banner was printed “China – talk to the Dalai Lama.”
In the same year, Coca Cola bought the sign it had been leasing for over 30 years, giving it the freedom and stability to continue evolving the look and purpose of the sign. But as its history attests, the sign has long served as a platform for people’s purposes as much as it’s served the brand’s purpose.
2014: Coca-Cola gets colourful for Mardi Gras
In what was labelled a celebration of diversity and inclusion by a brand that proudly champions it, Coca-Cola showed they were inclusive as they unveiled a rainbow flag to sit against the neon sign. Coca-Cola used the community landmark to reflect the nature of the area’s community during the annual Mardi Gras celebrations, with that connection not lost as its legacy grew.
2015: The past uncovered
In preparation for the erection of a new, eco-friendly sign in 2016, Coca Cola officials and workers uncovered what appeared to be a post-modern mural on the supporting wall, with a white door sitting stories above the ground allowing maintenance workers access to the sign.
10 tonnes of the old sign was recycled to pave the way for a new era of the iconic Coca Cola sign, with a temporary banner reserving the space for the big reveal.
2016: Container deposit scheme controversy & the great charity chop
In March 2016, five Greenpeace protesters scaled the sign and threatened to hang a banner reading “Stop Coke trashing Australia” in protest to the Coca-Cola backed container deposit scheme that was in discussion with the NSW government. The temporary sign was spared being overshadowed, however, it’s unlikely the signs political potential has been tapped into for the last time.
September 2016 saw the sign make another statement, this time is the name of community and charity. The former neon sign, which had garnered national and international sentiment, was dismantled and the letters put up for auction to support another local icon, the Wayside Chapel.
The total collection of letters raised $100,700 for the much-loved charity, deepening the connection between the Coke sign and the local community as the profits from the past sign were invested in the future of its residents. Plus, according to the lucky auction winners, they invested in parts of history and unique talking pieces for generations to come! As the old was auctioned, the new arrived at 6:30pm on 15th September as a new sign forged with environmentally-friendly RGB rope LED lights (saving 60% more power than the former neon) was switched on to once again illuminate the intersection.
2018: The famous flip
With the new like-for-like sign in place, it was time for a new story. In a move to commemorate the company’s presence in Australia for the past 80 years, Coca Cola flipped the sign, also breaking the long-held myth that its iconic drink was made in the US. This move was made in conjunction with a video that celebrated the long-standing connection the brand has with Australians throughout history to the present day.
In no other place in Australia is there such perpetual cultural relationship between a brand, a billboard and generations of Aussies – there’s no flipping that story.
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