Mad Men wrapped its seventh and final season last night with a finale that included a surprise nod to Coca-Cola, in which Don Draper’s hilltop, moment of zen om-coming led to one of the most iconic commercials in history, the so-called “Hilltop” commercial from 1971 that introduced the song, “I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke.” Turns out Coke’s cameo wasn’t a complete surprise.
At least one observer—Racked social media editor Eileen Sutton—predicted that Don Draper would come up with one of the most famous ads in history. After all, what better way to end a series about advertising than with one of the most iconic ads ever?
In addition to heavy foreshadowing, including AMC making the image above available to press, the debut of the Coke ad would have followed the conclusion of the series in chronological time, as Sutton pointed out to sister publication Vox for its Mad Men finale predictions column.
I thought I knew how Mad Men ended…turns out I did http://t.co/XT7gJcsGTt
— Eileen Sutton (@eileensutton) May 18, 2015
Enjoying the salute—but denying to Variety it paid for product placement in the episode—Coca-Cola tweeted its response to Coke’s cameo in the series finale:
— Coca-Cola (@CocaCola) May 18, 2015
Others chiming in during the two-hour finale:
— Mercedes-Benz USA (@MBUSA) May 18, 2015
— Adam Tucker (@Adman_Tucker) May 18, 2015
— Brandon Marcello (@bmarcello) May 18, 2015
Of course, the real origin of the classic Coke commercial didn’t take place at an Esalen-esque wellness retreat in northern California.
Bill Backer, creative director on the Coca-Cola account at McCann-Erickson, was waiting for a flight at Shannon Airport, Ireland when he penned the line, “I’d like to buy the world a Coke” on a napkin. With the help of Billy Davis and Roger Cook, this line became a song and was recorded by The New Seekers, a popular British singing group. However it was art director Harvey Gabor’s idea to create ‘The First United Chorus of the World’, transforming Backer’s song into a joyous celebration of unity and resulting in one of the most memorable commercials in history.
The response to the commercial was unprecedented. Requests poured into radio stations across America and Coca-Cola received thousands of letters from across the country. At a time when conflict was dominating headlines, “Hilltop” quickly became more than an ad—it became a rallying message of tolerance and hope.
Below, Backer recalls the impact of the commercial: