AN iconic Coca Cola advert was inspired by events at Shannon Airport 51 years ago this month, writes Owen Ryan.
The advert, which features a song with the famed lyrics ‘I’d like to teach the world to sing’ came about after Bill Backer, creative director on the Coca Cola account for the McCann Erickson advertising agency was flying to England to meet with Billy Davis, a music director, to write radio commercials with British songwriters Roger Cook and Roger Greenway in January 1971.
On Coca Cola’s website, it states that Bill’s flight to the UK was forced to make an unscheduled stop in Clare.
“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.”
The commercial was recorded in Rome some months later, with Coca Cola investing hundreds of thousands of dollars.
It was released in America in July of 1971 and Coca Cola quickly received more than 100,000 letters about it, with listeners calling radio stations asking for it to be played.
The Coca Cola website claims the ‘I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke’ ad has had a lasting connection with the public, with the commercial consistently being voted one of the best of all time and the sheet music continuing to sell today.
“The song version is being sung in school glee clubs and church choirs and played by high school bands all over the world. Thirty years after Bill Backer was stranded by fog, Coca-Cola is still more than a beverage. It is a common connection between the people of the world.”