Coke, Mad Men, and
By Matthew Skwiat, Contributing Editor
May 22, 2015
For those of you still recovering from the emotional rollercoaster of Sunday’s series finale of Mad Men and are still trying to make sense of what it all means, how you are going to live with yourselves on Sunday’s (or whenever you watch it on Hulu), or are still craving that fitting farewell you thought was robbed from you, then you have come to the wrong place. (Warning Spoilers). What can be provided is a glimpse inside the real story of that now infamous 1971 “I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke” commercial which both infuriated and perplexed the divergent Mad Men audience.
At the end of the season 7 finale we are left with the still dapper Don Draper perched on top of Big Sur, legs crossed with his fellow zen compatriots as he slyly smirks at the camera chanting “Om” and breathes new life into an all but dead career. The rebirth begins as the screen briefly fades to black and the Coca Cola ad takes over. Don’s existential crisis throughout the series gave way to a new beginning as it is suggested that the perennial ad man of the 1960s can still tap into the zeitgeist of the commercialized American pop culture of the 1970s. Ending with a beginning caught many people off guard, but at its heart, it showed that beginnings can be just as powerful as endings even in the cynical world of mass consumerism that Mad Men captured so well.
What is perhaps most interesting about the ending of Mad Men is the subtle way it mixes fact with fiction. The top advertising team McCann Erickson brought about the Coke commercial, but it wasn’t hatched from the suave Don Draper, but the creative director of Coca Cola, Bill Backer.
Backer was on his way to London to write a few radio commercials, but London weather decided to intervene. Heavy fog blanketed most of England and Backer, along with the rest of the flight and crew were forced to stop over in Shannon, Ireland. Sleep deprived and angry, the passengers relocated to the cafe where they commiserated over their situation by laughing and sharing jokes. This all occurred, you guessed it, while sipping a bunch of cokes. As Backer recalled,
“[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.”
Backer’s idea would win over the executives at Coca Cola and oddly enough be filmed not in California or in Ireland, but on a racetrack in Rome. The ad has since become a classic as one of the most successful commercials in history, but will be sure to generate new life as the fitting farewell of a beloved television series. ♦