The Dantesque trip into Don Draper’s Inferno ends in advertising Heaven: from selling cigarettes on Madison Avenue to sell soft drinks in the Italian hills. This is the story of the TV ad that changed the history of advertising, and now television.
And so Don Draper’s Dantesque journey in his personal Inferno ended. In Season 6, the one that begins with Don in Hawaii and imitates Dante’s Inferno, his character was said: “Heaven is a little morbid, how do you get to heaven? Something terrible has to happen“.
And all the extraordinary final season 7 was a descent ever deeper into this hell, during the two final episodes of which he descended into an almost dreamlike road trip that took him to the brink of suicide. It seemed as though something terrible could happen at any moment. And then, the final mocking smile that opens the gates of Paradise.
While Don is on a hillside in Big Sur, absorbed in yogic meditation chanting Om, the theme from one of the most famous TV ads of all time starts to play, “I’d like to buy the world a Coke” also known only as “Hilltop”. Don’s personal Paradise is nothing more than the ”advertising heaven” of customer Coca Cola, as Jim Hobart called it?
The finale of Mad Men lends itself to many interpretations, which we can simplify as: Don has found enlightenment and inner peace or Don himself has created that ad and became part of the history of advertising?
As spectators who are particularly fond of conspiracy, we believe the latter. Matthew Weiner has given many clues: from the old distributor of Coca Cola that the motel owner asks Don to adjust, to the receptionist of the hippie centre who is remarkably the same as one of the protagonists of the ad.
To the man who embraces Don during a meeting at the centre after seeing him cry because he imagined himself abandoned and locked in an ice cold refrigerator while outside people were happy. Not to mention – in the difficult times of the season 1 – the casting of Betty Draper as a model for the famous drink that Hobart proposed to the then wife of Don, with the sole intention of hooking Draper and taking him to McCann.
Everything seems to lead you to believe that at the yoga meditation at Big Sur Don preferred to return to New York with the big idea for Coca Cola.
Rarely have they been used in Mad Men real advertising. Real Brands, but that the fictitious agency previously known as Sterling-Cooper appropriated for a commercial created by someone else (apart from “It’s toasted!”), did not happen often.
But with the season 7 is no more the Sterling Cooper, and even Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce and even Sterling, Cooper & Partners. We are in McCann Erickson, and drawing the line between what a real agency has created and what is invented is easier. McCann seems to confirm this hypothesis.
And even Coca Cola.
But the story of that ad is well known, as also described on the official website of the brand and summarized at the end of the ad itself:
On a hilltop in Italy
We assembled young people
From all over the world
To bring you this message
From Coca-Cola bottlers
All over the world
It’s the real thing – Coke.
The January 18, 1971, Bill Backer, creative director on the Coca Cola account of McCann Erickson, found himself stuck at the airport in Shannon, Ireland, where his plane was due to land because of the fog in London. Passengers were initially nervous but after the whole night at the airport, Backer tells of seeing them joking and laughing at the bar, drinking bottles of Coca Cola. So Backer said that night:
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.
Returning to London just to record jingles for Coca Cola, Backer met Roquel Billy Davis, account music director of the agency, who wasn’t so convinced that everything the world wished for was a Coke. The official version reads:
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.”
The task of writing the song had been entrusted to two successful songwriters, Roger Cook and Roger Greenaway, and had to be recorded by a group of the time, The New Seekers. Cook, Greenway, Backer and Davis joined forces and the result was then known as the jingle “I’d like to buy the world a Coke.” On February 2 of 71, the ad came on the radio and gradually became – as we would say today – viral: dj friends of Davis told him that they received requests to hear it all the time and suggested recording it as a disk.
Backer put his creative team to work to come up with a visual concept for “I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke.” Out of the many creative ideas, the one that stood out was the one called “The First United Chorus of the World” created by art director Harvey Gabor. This concept featured young people all around the world singing together on a hillside. Backer presented the storyboards to The Coca-Cola Company and Coke advertising manager Ike Herbert approved more than $100,000 to film it.
The first shots of the spot took place on the cliffs of Dover, but with so much rain the budget was increased and moved all the way to Rome, Italy. A new cast of new young extras was compiled and the face of a young girl on vacation in Rome from Mauritius was chosen as the opening. But the rain interrupted these shots.
But McCann did not give up and so the shooting continued on Italian soil:
Five hundred young people were hired for the chorus from embassies and schools in Rome. This was a substantial reduction from the original rained-out chorus. A British governess Davis and Gabor found pushing a baby carriage in the Piazza Navona was hired for the lead female role. The Italian film company Roma Film filmed the commercial and this time the weather cooperated. Close-ups of the young “leads” were actually filmed at a racetrack in Rome, separate from the larger chorus shots. Some of the distinctive camera angles were forced on the crew as they tried to avoid power and telephone lines.
“I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke” was released in the U.S. in July 1971 and immediately struck a responsive chord. The Coca-Cola Company and its bottlers received more than 100,000 letters about the commercial. Many listeners called radio stations begging to hear it.
The rest is history: the song was re-recorded, not by the New Seekers, but by a new group of singers who called themselves The Hillside Singers and the words were changed without any reference to the drink, becoming “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing (in Perfect Harmony)”. The song debuted in the top 10, with the New Seekers’s version at number 13.
“What the world wants today Is the real thing”, recited some verses of the song. So, is this the real thing Don?
Source: Swide, by Alessia Gargiulo