I’d like to buy the world a Coke: Coca Cola’s classic TV commercial (1971)

Buy the world a Coke - Coca Cola vintage TV commercial 1971 (3)

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The monumentally-successful “I’d like to buy the world a Coke” ad campaign was conceived by Bill Backer, the creative director on the Coca-Cola account for the McCann Erickson advertising agency. According to the company, Backer also wrote the Coca-Cola jingle “Things Go Better with Coke,” and the jingle for “The Real Thing” Coke campaign. (Sorry, no, the concept wasn’t dreamed up by Don Draper.)

The tune was so successful, it was re-recorded by The New Seekers and The Hillside Singers — minus the Coke references — and titled the revised version “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing (In Perfect Harmony).”

Buy the world a Coke - Coca Cola vintage TV commercial 1971 (4)

Coca-Cola’s commercial: “I’d like to buy the world a Coke” (video)

YouTube video

Coke’s new ad: It’s the real thing

by Lynn Taylor, Chicago Tribune (October 4, 1971)

Unless you’ve had your head under a bushel basket for the last two months, or absolutely never watch television, you probably will recognize the above lyrics as one of the hit songs of the season, which also just happens to be an ad for Coca-Cola Co.

We have been curious to find out about the commercial which shows young people gathered on a hillside in Italy singing the song together.

Is it for real? The company and McCann Ericson, Inc., the agency responsible for the ad, assure us that it is for real . . . well, almost.

Buy the world a Coke - Coca Cola vintage TV commercial 1971 (8)

Shot in Italy

Anyway, it was shot in Italy and not on a hillside in Brooklyn close to the agency’s headquarters, or in Atlanta, where CocaCola is based.

It was supposed to have been filmed on a hillside outside of London, but bad weather forced cancellation. The film site was switched to Rome, but the first rain in months forced a postponement.

In the main portion of the commercial, about 40 young people ranging in age from 15 to 19 years are shown, Harvey Gabor, vice president and art director of McCann, told us. Some of them are children from the embassies in Rome; others are foreign students going to school in Rome.

Coke - It's the real thing vintage commercial

The final view, taken from a helicopter, shows 500 students. No wonder that when the weather finally cleared up, it took 2-1/2 days to shoot the commercial.

Some of the students are wearing their own native costumes; others had to be custom-made — a project in itself. Look closely and you may see some of the Coke bottles has lettering in the languages of the country the singer comes from. [By the way, Coke is sold in 130 countries.]

Are they really singing?

Yes, they were singing when the film was made, but that’s not the soundtrack you hear. It took several weeks of rehearsals in an auditorium to get the young people to get the timing exactly right, especially difficult since many of them only spoke Italian — or languages other than English — Gabor told us.

The soundtrack is done by The New Seekers, a London group.

Buy the world a Coke - Coca Cola vintage TV commercial 1971 (2)

Appeal to young people

The theme was chosen, specifically to appeal to young people who have deve1oped a deep concern about the problems of the world. The song itself is fresh and has a little hope in it, Gabor said.

“The idea is to sell Coke and to give a little joy at the same time.”

ALSO SEE: Cocaine-laced Coca Cola introduced (1886)

The hillside, 25 minutes from Rome, was selected because the agency was looking for a place that had a pastoral, simple look.

“We were presenting a hit of fantasy,” Gabor said, “almost a wish that the world was really like that.”

Buy the world a Coke - Coca Cola vintage TV commercial 1971 (7)

The song appeals to people of all ages, Coca-Cola reports. Consumer response has been great, with 90 percent of the letters it receives requesting copies of the lyrics.

One teacher who wrote in wants to write a play around the commercial’s theme, a choral director requested sheet music, and some youngsters are composing additional stanzas to the music which was written by Bill Backer, Billy Davis and Cook and Greenaway, a songwriting team.

Is the campaign a success?

Coca-Cola is calling it the real thing, and equates it with other commercial successes such as its own “Pause that Refreshes,” the Volkswagen series of the late 1960s, and the humorous Alka-Seltzer commercials.

Buy the world a Coke - Coca Cola vintage TV commercial 1971 (5)

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.

Buy the world a Coke - Coca Cola vintage TV commercial 1971 (6)

“I’d like to buy the world a Coke” lyrics

I’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
That’s the real thing

(Repeat chorus)

Chorus 2:
What the world wants today
Is the real thing

(Repeat chorus 2)

Buy the world a Coke - Coca Cola vintage TV commercial 1971 (1)

Creator Bill Backer interviewed about “I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke”

YouTube video

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Comments on this story

One Response

  1. In the early ’70s, you couldn’t turn on a TV or radio without hearing this song. In music class in school, we sang the Hillside Singers version (the radio version without the Coke reference, which BTW peaked at #13 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1972). In fact, for years I assumed that the commercial was adapted from the song, not the other way around.

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