5 Things You Need to Know About That Coca-Cola Ad Featured in ‘Mad Men’

by Stacy Lambe 1:08 PM PDT, May 18, 2015
Playing 5 Things You Need to Know About That Coca-Cola Ad Featured in ‘Mad Men’

In the final moments in the series finale of Mad Men, fans were shown a classic Coca-Cola ad that is legendary in the advertising world. While there is plenty of debate surrounding the show’s plot -- namely, Don Draper’s all-knowing grin -- and how the ad came to be in creator Matt Weiner’s fictionalized world, we’re going to dive into the truth of the real thing.

So prepare for your watercooler knowledge with these five things to know about the real-life “I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke” ad.

1. It was created by an ad man from McCann Erickson.

The ad agency gets a bad rap on the show, but in real life the company was -- and still is -- a major force in the advertising world. It’s star employee? Not Don Draper, but creative director Bill Backer who created the ad for Coca-Cola.

Backer told CNN Money that he hasn’t seen Mad Men past season two and has no opinion on the finale.

"It had become more about the tangled lives of the people and less about the industry they were working in and presenting the ads in ways that was attention-getting, and hopefully uplifting and fun to watch,” he revealed. Oops, someone’s not a fan of Don’s escapades. 

2. The ad was not inspired by a hippie commune.

While Don’s meditative state at the end of the series certainly suggests a moment of Nirvana, which may have inspired the hit ad, the real story could be nothing further from the truth.

After Backer’s flight to London was forced to land in Ireland, Backer became inspired by the passengers who bonded over being grounded. Backer explains that they were “laughing and sharing stories over snacks and bottles of Coca-Cola,” which became the basis for the ad’s concept:

"In that moment [I] saw a bottle of Coke in a whole new light... [I] began to see a bottle of Coca-Cola as more than a drink that refreshed a hundred million people a day in almost every corner of the globe. So [I] began to see the familiar words, 'Let's have a Coke,' as more than an invitation to pause for refreshment. They were actually a subtle way of saying, 'Let's keep each other company for a little while.' And [I] knew they were being said all over the world as [I] sat there in Ireland. So that was the basic idea: to see Coke not as it was originally designed to be -- a liquid refresher -- but as a tiny bit of commonality between all peoples, a universally liked formula that would help to keep them company for a few minutes."

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3. Backer’s pitch almost didn’t land.

When Backer pitched the idea to his client, producer Billy Davis, it was met with a tepid response. As Coca-Cola notes in its history books, Backer had to sell him on the idea of buying a Coke for everyone:

Davis slowly revealed his problem. "Well, if I could do something for everybody in the world, it would not be to buy them a Coke."

Backer responded, "What would you do?"

"I'd buy everyone a home first and share with them in peace and love," Davis said.

Backer said, "Okay, that sounds good. Let's write that and I'll show you how Coke fits right into the concept."

Once the concept was OK’d the trouble didn’t stop there. The shoot was plagued with rain, which washed out two productions and pushed the budget to $250,000 -- an unheard of cost for a commercial.

And then Coca-Cola bottlers were not a fan of the jingle. Luckily, the public overwhelming disagreed. 

4. The jingle was a chart-topping hit.

The ad was an instant hit when it was released in July 1971. And while clearly a jingle, consumers started calling into radio stations to hear the song. Eventually, two folk rock groups -- The Hillside Singers and The New Seekers -- recorded a new version of the song, called “I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing (In Perfect Harmony)." Both versions, which dropped the Coca-Cola references, became major hits. The Singers’ version climbed to No. 13 on the Billboard Hot 100, while the Seekers’ version surpassed it, hitting No. 1 and eventually selling 12 million copies.

5. The hit ad has been recycled by Coca-Cola.

Why let a good thing go to waste when it can be repackaged and resold to a new generation? Twenty years after the original ad came out Coca-Cola revisited the ad for Super Bowl XXV. In the updated version, several of the original singers, with their kids, sing a medley of the original song and the brand’s current jingle, “Can’t Beat the Real Thing.” It’s also been used by the beverage company in numerous campaigns since then.