By Cliff Peale
Enquirer staff writer
In a marriage of marketing glitz and civic charity, Coca-Cola Co. has designed a commemorative bottle and a poster that will be distributed to the first 50,000 visitors to the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, all marking the museum's public opening Tuesday.
Coke's contribution also includes $1.2 million in cash.
Tuesday night, local Coca-Cola employees gathered in the museum for a special event, highlighting Coke's contribution and the reliance that museum organizers have put on corporate funds.
John Pepper, the former Procter & Gamble Co. chairman who headed the museum's fund-raising campaign, said Coke was one of the first companies he approached when the campaign started.
"We need to continue to develop these kinds of opportunities," Pepper said.
The contribution also includes a new marketing campaign to help open the center. Coke has placed an 80-foot banner on a building along Interstate 71 in downtown Cincinnati. The commemorative bottle hits stores next week.
Quinton Martin, director of community marketing at Atlanta-based Coke, said the contributions weren't an outgrowth of a discrimination lawsuit by black employees that was settled in 2000 or the resignation this year of the company's highest-ranking African-American executive, general counsel Deval Patrick.
"Absolutely not," Martin said. "The issues in the past may have highlighted some of those things, but this really has been part of our culture."
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