In 1969, The Coca Cola Company and its advertising agency, McCann-Erickson, ended their popular "Things Go Better With Coke" campaign, replacing it with a campaign that centered on the slogan "It's the Real Thing." Beginning with a hit song, the new campaign featured what proved to be one of the most popular ads ever created.
I'd Like to Buy The World a CokeThe song "I'd Like to Buy The World a Coke" had its origins on January 18, 1971, in a fog. Bill Backer, the creative director on the Coca-Cola account for McCann-Erickson, was traveling to London to join two other songwriters, Billy Davis and Roger Cook, to write and arrange several radio commercials for The Coca-Cola Company that would be recorded by the popular singing group the New Seekers. As the plane approached Great Britain, heavy fog at London's Heathrow Airport forced it to land instead at Shannon Airport, Ireland. The irate passengers were obliged to share rooms at the one hotel available in Shannon or to sleep at the airport. Tensions and tempers ran high.
The next morning, as the passengers gathered in the airport coffee shop awaiting clearance to fly, Backer noticed that several who had been among the most irate were now laughing and sharing stories over bottles of Coke.
They Like ItIn that moment, I began to see a bottle of Coca Cola as more than a drink. I began to see the familiar words, "Let's have a Coke," as 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. - Bill Backer as recalled in his book The Care and Feeding of Ideas (New York: Times Books/Random House, 1993)
A Song Is BornBacker's flight never did reach London. Heathrow Airport was still fogged in, so the passengers were redirected to Liverpool and bussed to London, arriving around midnight. At his hotel, Backer immediately met with Billy Davis and Roger Cook, finding that they had completed one song and were working on a second as they prepared to meet the New Seekers' musical arranger the next day. Backer told them he thought they should work through the night on an idea he had had: "I could see and hear a song that treated the whole world as if it were a persona person the singer would like to help and get to know. I'm not sure how the lyric should start, but I know the last line." With that he pulled out the paper napkin on which he had scribbled the line, "I'd like to buy the world a Coke and keep it company."
Lyrics - I'd Like to Buy the World a CokeI'd like to buy the world a home and furnish it with love,
Grow apple trees and honey bees, and snow white turtle doves.
I'd like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony,
I'd like to buy the world a Coke and keep it company.
(Repeat the last two lines, and in the background)
It's the real thing, Coke is what the world wants today.
They Don't Like ItOn February 12, 1971, "I'd Like to Buy the World a Coke" was shipped to radio stations throughout the United States.
It promptly flopped. The Coca-Cola bottlers hated the ad and most refused to buy airtime for it. The few times the ad was played, the public paid no attention. Bill Backer's idea that Coke connected people appeared to be dead.
Backer persuaded McCann to convince Coca-Cola executives that the ad was still viable but needed a visual dimension. His approach succeeded: the company eventually approved more than $250,000 for filming, at the time one of the largest budgets ever devoted to a television commercial.
A Commercial SuccessThe television ad "I'd Like to Buy the World a Coke" was released first in Europe, where it garnered only a tepid response. It was then released in the U.S. in July, 1971, and the response was immediate and dramatic. By November of that year, Coca-Cola and its bottlers had received more than a hundred thousand letters about the ad. At that time the demand for the song was so great that many people were calling radio stations and asking them to play the commercial.
"I'd Like to Buy the World a Coke" has had a lasting connection with the viewing public. Advertising surveys consistently identify it as one of the best commercials of all time, and the sheet music continues to sell more than thirty years after the song was written.