Wednesday 26 September 2018

The ad that taught the world to sing in perfect harmony...

So Mad Men is no more. After 92 episodes, Don Draper (inset) bid adieu with a smirk on his face as he sat cross-legged chanting "om" at a hippie retreat in California.

Series creator Matt Weiner then cut to Coca-Cola's famous Hilltop ad with 200 fresh-faced young adults from near and far singing how they would like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony.

Was Weiner suggesting that Draper dreamt up the famous Coke ad from 1971? But what's the real story behind Hilltop? Well, the ad started at the Cliffs of Dover in England, after an unexpected stopover in Shannon. Rain held up filming, so they moved to Rome. Dressed in national costumes, the actors mimed the lyrics sung by British pop group the New Seekers.

Coke got 100,000 letters and requests for sheet music. Coke obliged and released the song as a single. But radio stations weren't happy about giving an ad free air time, so Bill Backer - a copywriter and lyricist at McCann Erickson - rewrote the ballad without any mention of Coke. A group calling themselves the Hillside Singers released a country 'n' western version.

By the start of 1972, the two recordings had sold a million copies. Although Coke wasn't in the lyrics, people thought of the soft drink whenever they heard the song. As Newsweek said at the time, it was "a sure-fire form of subliminal advertising."

Draper's exit may not have been as mind-blowing as Weiner's black screen for The Sopranos, but then Mad Men was set in cushy adland, not among hard-nosed mafioso.

Michael Cullen is editor of marketing.ie; cullen@marketing.ie

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