The Irish connection to that Coca-Cola ad

It turns out that not only has Irish coffee come into being as the result of a bunch of blow-ins huddled together at Shannon airport, but also the inspiration for the famous Coca Cola ad – I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke – which is enjoying a lot of newfound attention thanks to the big Mad Men finale last night.


According to the extensive details on the Coca-Cola website, here’s what happened:

Bill Backer, creative director on the Coca-Cola account for the McCann Erickson advertising agency, was flying to London to meet up with Billy Davis, the music director on the Coca-Cola account, to write radio commercials with two successful British songwriters, Roger Cook and Roger Greenaway, to be recorded by the New Seekers, a popular British singing group.

The heavy fog in London forced the plane to land in Shannon, Ireland. Passengers had to remain near the airport in case the fog lifted. Some of them were furious about their accommodations. By the next day, Backer saw some of the most irate passengers in the airport cafe. Brought together by a common experience, many were now laughing and sharing stories over snacks and bottles of Coca-Cola. Backer wrote of the scene:

“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.”

It’s interesting to see how that ad looks like a precursor to the Benetton ads of later years, even if the smiling, multi-culti kids all grasping identical bottles to look vaguely cult-like for a brief moment.

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