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Highlights in the History of Coca-Cola Television Advertising

D'Arcy Era | D'Arcy to McCann | Look Up, America | Coke Adds Life and Mean Joe Greene | Coke is It! and New Coke | Two Tastes and Two Campaigns | Polar Bears | International Approaches

d'arcy advertisment

D'Arcy Advertising Company hands off
The Coca-Cola Company account.

The D'Arcy Era, 1950-1956

The first television ad created for The Coca-Cola Company was produced in conjunction with a television special featuring Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy on Thanksgiving Day, 1950. The sponsorship of this program and its advertising were both by the D'Arcy Agency of St. Louis. D'Arcy had been the advertising agency for The Coca-Cola Company since 1906, when William C. D'Arcy persuaded Coca-Cola to begin a newspaper campaign. From that modest beginning developed a fifty-year relationship. For much of that time, Arthur (Archie) Lee was the creative chief at D'Arcy who oversaw the account and created such memorable slogans for Coca-Cola as "the pause that refreshes."

Television advertising was initially an experimental medium for The Coca-Cola Company and D'Arcy. Both struggled to develop a strategy to reach consumers effectively at a time when few cities had television stations. One approach was through sponsored programs that offered the opportunity for The Coca-Cola Company to expand relationships with performers from its radio programming. The initial Edgar Bergen special was quickly followed by sponsorship of Walt Disney's television premiere on Christmas Day, 1950, One Hour in Wonderland, and the next three years saw Coca-Cola sponsor the Western genre program The Adventures of Kit Carson and Coke Time with Eddie Fisher, a variety program.

Nevertheless, Coca-Cola struggled with television advertising. In 1953, an internal memo in the company's Advertising Department begged for time to develop a strategy to reach consumers through the new medium, and D'Arcy had difficulty developing effective advertising outside of the sponsored programming.

In that same year, 1953, D'Arcy developed three basic types of television ads. In one type, The Coca-Cola Company offered station-identification slides that aired for up to twenty seconds. These generally featured a piece of advertising art with the station call letters, accompanied by a voice-over announcement. D'Arcy also created its first live-action motion-picture films, in twenty-second and one-minute versions. The twenty-second spots featured in this online collection were made in what D'Arcy described as "stop motion" technique, in which "the objects shown in each one (bottles, sandwiches, a telephone, a typewriter, etc.) move and perform action by themselves without the presence of live actors. The result is a series of fresh and novel spots sure to attract a lot of attention and interest."


From D'Arcy to McCann, 1956-1969

D'Arcy was a highly regarded print advertising agency, but its struggles to incorporate new media, coupled with the deaths of William D'Arcy and Archie Lee by 1950, led The Coca-Cola Company to search for new talent. In 1956 the company's advertising account was transferred to McCann-Erickson. D'Arcy closed and commemorated its fifty years of work with Coca-Cola in a print ad that appeared in the Wall Street Journal on April 2, 1956.

McCann launched two campaigns during the 1950s, "The Sign of Good Taste" and "Be Really Refreshed". Both used television to the fullest with a variety of advertising formats including animation, stop motion, and live-action ads featuring such performers as the McGuire Sisters, Connie Francis, Emmett Kelly, Anita Bryant, and the Brothers Four.

The number of ads and their production values rose dramatically from 1956 to 1963. In 1963, McCann hit its stride with a campaign that proved to have worldwide appeal, "Things Go Better with Coke." The words and music for the slogan at the heart of the campaign were written by McCann's creative director, Bill Backer, and performed by the popular folk-revival group the Limelighters. By design, the words also translated readily into almost any language, allowing the slogan to travel the world.

<nobr>Coca-Cola</nobr> in refrigerator image


McCann also began experimenting with a new television technology, color advertising. Uncertain about how to show the product in the best way possible, McCann-Erickson commissioned a reel of experimental film that depicted Coca-Cola in bottles, glasses, and cans in a variety of settings and lighting arrangements. The knowledge gained from that experiment made possible the first color television ad for The Coca-Cola Company, distributed to the bottling system on June 15, 1964. Called "Refrigerator-Man," the spot echoed the experimental footage in this online collection.

Throughout the 1960s, advertising for Coca-Cola on both radio and television reflected the changing forces in society. The "Things Go Better with Coke" campaign was adapted to the youth market by allowing a number of popular-music artists to modify and perform the song. Radio commercials were also recorded by the Supremes, Jay and the Americans, the Moody Blues, Jan and Dean, Roy Orbison, Petula Clark, and (on both television and radio) Ray Charles. The decade ended with what was perhaps the most successful television ad campaign for Coca-Cola, the so-called "Hilltop" commercial featuring the song "I'd Like to Buy the World a Coke."


Look Up, America

During the mid-1970s, the political uncertainty in the United States stemming from Watergate and the resignation of President Richard Nixon presented a new creative challenge to The Coca-Cola Company's advertisers. Their solution: as the nation questioned its direction, Coca-Cola would remind Americans of their country's positive values in the "Look Up, America" campaign.

The commercials showed what were considered to be typically American scenes, from football players to a cattle herder to country-and-Western singers. An announcer talked of the land "from sea to shining sea," explaining, "no matter what you're doing or where you are, look up for the real things" such as Coca-Cola. The strategy's success may be gauged by the fact that in December 1974 Advertising Age magazine named Donald R. Keough, president of The Coca-Cola Company's U.S. group, Adman of the Year, noting his representation of "a company which over the years has so successfully keyed its advertising to the mood of society."

"Look Up, America" made a transition to a timely, upbeat new campaign, a celebration of the country's bicentennial in 1976.


Coke Adds Life and Mean Joe Greene

In May 1976, The Coca-Cola Company introduced a new Coke ad campaign, touting the brand as the soft drink for all occasions. Aimed at the young and young-at-heart, the new campaign, "Coke Adds Life to …," was designed to show viewers that Coca-Cola added simple enjoyment to life.

The campaign itself was hardly simple. Development of "Coke Adds Life to …" began in 1973 with consumer research studies and lasted three years. The campaign's creative team came up with nearly a hundred copy lines, different ways of conveying what they wished to communicate as the basic promise of Coca-Cola. The group then talked to young people to get their reaction to the lines. The researchers from Coca-Cola and McCann-Erickson found that the lines "Coke adds a little life" or "Coke adds life" resonated with the public.

"Coke Adds Life" emphasized refreshment and tried to show Coke as the perfect accompaniment to food, fun, and leisure. The campaign highlighted the soft drink's role in many situations common to consumers around the globe, and the campaign's theme was adapted to appeal to a worldwide audience. While Coca-Cola often produced advertising in the United States that was adapted for international use, in 1978 the company adapted two overseas "Coke Adds Life" spots—from Italy and Brazil—for U.S. audiences. The Italian ad, "Flirting," follows the attempts of a young man to meet the one who will be his special girl. The viewer also sees the romantic pursuits of others both young and old. The message is that Coke helps pave the way to romance.

coke adds life advertisement

Coke Adds Life

After "Coke Adds Life," the stage was set for a new advertising campaign for Coca-Cola, "Have a Coke and a Smile," which further emphasized the reliability and reward in drinking Coca-Cola. The new campaign was announced in commercials featuring Bob Hope and Bill Cosby, who explained the idea of "Have a Coke and a Smile" and encouraged viewers to watch for the new advertising.

The campaign centered around a single melody and one set of lyrics. For television, the music served as a background for dozens of vignettes featuring people from many walks of life drinking Coca-Cola while working or relaxing. One such ad, released on October 1, 1979, became one of the most famous Coke commercials, captivating audiences almost as much as had the "Hilltop" commercial eight years earlier. Written by Penny Hawkey, produced by Jean-Claude Kaufman, with art direction by Roger Mosconi and direction by Lee Lacy, the commercial known as "Mean Joe Greene" featured the defensive lineman of that nickname from the Pittsburgh Steelers professional football team and a twelve-year-old boy, Tommy Okon.

The casting of this ad was integral to its success. While The Coca-Cola Company had suggested Roger Staubach, the popular quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys, McCann opted to use the "Mean"-looking Steeler player instead. The ad was filmed over three days in May 1979 at a stadium in New Rochelle, New York, with Joe Greene and Tommy Okon performing countless retakes and Greene consuming eighteen 16-ounce bottles of Coca-Cola the final day alone.

The ad proved to be immensely popular, sparking a surge of letters to The Coca-Cola Company. It won the 1979 CLIO award in the world's largest advertising awards competition, and Greene took home the award for best actor in the same contest. The Coca-Cola Company followed up with a promotion to "win the shirt off my back," distributing thousands of replica jerseys to winning entrants. It also adapted the ad's concept to other parts of the world: Brazil, Argentina, and Thailand all produced versions of the commercial following the same plot line but featuring renowned football (soccer) players from each country, such as national soccer champion Niwat in Thailand.

"Mean Joe Greene" concluded its life as a made-for-TV movie that aired on NBC-TV on November 8, 1981. Joe Greene starred in the movie, but the part of the young boy was played by Henry Thomas, who later went on to star in E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial. The movie recreated the ad and told the story of what happened after the ad ended.


Coke is It! and New Coke

In early 1982, Coca-Cola launched a new ad campaign, "Coke Is It!," with an emphasis on the product's qualities of taste and refreshment. The direct, positive statement "Coke Is It!" was meant to appeal to the forthright mood of Americans in the 1980s. "Coke Is It!" played on themes of previous ad campaigns, stressing the quality, the enjoyment, and especially the anticipation of drinking a Coca-Cola.

Ironically, the introduction of "new Coke" demonstrated in unexpected ways that after ninety-nine years, Coke had indeed become part of the tapestry of American life. When The Coca-Cola Company introduced a new taste for Coke in North America in 1985, television advertising helped launch it. The public, however, demanded the return of the traditional drink, so vehemently that the company was obliged to bring it back–renamed as "Coca-Cola classic."


Two Tastes and Two Campaigns

With both the new Coke and Coca-Cola classic in the marketplace, The Coca-Cola Company needed two distinct ad campaigns. Introduced in 1986, the "Catch the Wave" campaign for the new taste of Coke strove to be youthful, leading-edge, and competitive. For Coca-Cola classic, the "Red, White and You" campaign emphasized that drink's broad appeal and the emotional attachment it generated. At the same time, it attempted to celebrate contemporary American lifestyles and a modern American spirit. The campaign was aimed at an extremely broad audience: all soft drink consumers age twelve and up, with an emphasis on the 18-to-34 age group. In surveys at the time, seventy-five percent of respondents said they considered Coca-Cola classic a symbol of America. The "Red, White and You" theme was a natural consequence.

The campaign was created by the New York-based ad agency SSC&B Lintas.

SSC&B went to unusual shooting locations to produce four TV spots: "Rhythm and Blues," "Young Rock," "Big City Lights/Jazz," and "Small Town/Country." The shoots captured a mix of recognizable landmarks such as the Golden Gate Bridge and the Coca-Cola neon sign in New York's Times Square. The accompanying vignettes included Olympic gold medalist Valerie Brisco-Hooks, a glimpse of the Winter Garden Theatre set of the Broadway musical Cats, and early-morning neighborhood newspaper deliveries set against the San Francisco skyline. The casting for the ads was also unusual: along with traditional professional casting for actors and actresses, producers sought ordinary people playing everyday roles. The choreographer, for example, toured Southern California night spots looking for talented dancers.

The "Catch the Wave" campaign for new Coke, created by McCann-Erickson New York, aimed to connect with an emerging youth-oriented target audience. The contemporary nature of "Catch the Wave" sent what its creators hoped was a clear message: to drink the "in" taste, to identify with the "in" image, drink Coca-Cola.

Accordingly, to appeal to America's youth, The Coca-Cola Company enlisted an unusual "spokesman": Max Headroom, a computerized character with a synthesized voice. Headroom, created by London video producers Rocky Morton and Annabel Jankel, was originally intended for use in music videos. Actor Matt Frewer played the role and helped Headroom earn his status as a new-wave hero.

The Coke ad featuring Headroom was selected as the top commercial campaign of 1986 by Video Storyboard Tests, Inc. of New York. Headroom was so popular with the public that the Coca-Cola Atlanta Consumer Information Center received more calls about the character than it had for any previous Coca-Cola advertising campaign. Most callers wanted Headroom posters and buttons. Some asked about his background. And a few wanted to know if he had a girlfriend. Max Headroom returned in 1987 to star as spokesman in new "Catch the Wave" commercials for Coke, as well as a pair of "Coke Pop Quiz" ads. One ad, "He's So Hip," featured Headroom with basketball great Michael Jordan.

1988 saw a new advertising campaign, "Can't Beat the Feeling," which aimed to show Coca-Cola as an integral and natural part of people's lives in everything from family to youthful fun to a first date. The ads featured upbeat music and played on broadly appealing themes such as music, love and family. The campaign was launched in nearly one hundred countries, marking the first ad campaign for Coca-Cola outside North America in six years.


Playing with Polar Bears

In 1993, The Coca-Cola Company made a dramatic shift in its advertising by introducing the "Always Coca-Cola" campaign, by Creative Artists Agency and later Edge Creative. The campaign was a diverse one, with an initial run of twenty-seven commercials designed to appeal to specific audiences. The ads ran around the world and included a variety of innovative technical approaches, such as computer animation. One such commercial, "Northern Lights," introduced what would become one of the most popular symbols of Coca-Cola advertising: the animated polar bear.

When asked to develop an innovative commercial for Coca-Cola, creator and freelance writer/director Ken Stewart thought about drinking Coke at the movies. Mr. Stewart thought his yellow Labrador Retriever resembled a polar bear when it was a puppy and thought about how polar bears would go to the movies. Mr. Stewart brought the two concepts together in the commercial, "Northern Lights," which depicts a magical place where polar bears watch "movies" (the aurora borealis) and drink from bottles of Coca-Cola.

Mr. Stewart enlisted the help of animation company Rhythm & Hues to bring the bears to life. With advanced computers and state-of-the-art graphic programs, each ad required some twelve weeks to produce from beginning to end.

As with all television commercials, the process began with storyboards, which were illustrated by Eugene Yelchin from Mr. StewartÕs script. The storyboards divided the commercial's "story" into a series of scenes to fit the required thirty-second time slot. Next, Mr. Stwewart and Rhythm & Hues did pencil sketches to show how the polar bears would appear in each scene. These sketches were then refined, with detail and background added.

<nobr>Coca-Cola</nobr> polar bear advertisement

Always Coca-Cola

To get a better idea of how bears move their heads, bodies, and limbs, Mr. Stewart and the animators studied films and photographs of actual polar bears. Then, models of a bear were sculpted from clay. The models were transferred into three-dimensional images and stored as advanced computer graphics by creating a grid of vertical and horizontal lines on the bear image. Using a stylus connected to a computer, an animator plotted the points along the bear's head until an image of the model appeared on the computer screen. Once the image was refined and loaded into memory, the bear could be "moved," allowing it to walk, run, ski, or ice skate, as animators plotted its course on the computer. The bear's torso, head, and limbs had to be manipulated separately because unlike its real-life counterpart the computer-generated bear was not formed in one piece. Animators also finished creating the bear's fine motor movements during this stage of production.

Once the basic movements were completed, the rest of the picture was refined. Additional elements that were not computer-generated—such as a Coca-Cola bottle—had been scanned and stored in the computer and were added at this point. The bear's fur was added, its eyes were completed, the scenic background was "painted in," and the lighting details—intricate lighting complete with reflection and shadows—were fine-tuned.

While the animation was in production, Mr. Stewart worked with Glenn Rueger at Outside Music to compose original music, and created sound effects with Weddington Productions. In order to maintain the magical and ethereal quality of the world of the bears, Mr. Stewart chose to keep the music to a minimum. He used the synthesized music as a source of punctuation only, and kept the bears dialogue-free, except for the notable "oohs," "ahs" and grunts which Mr. Stewart created on a sound stage using his own voice, which was then altered through a computer to make him sound like the bears. The music and "dialogue," which were minimal by design, required months of work.

The polar bear was a considerable success, and went on to star in six commercials for Coca-Cola, including two ads for the 1994 Olympic Games in which it slid down a luge and soared off a ski jump. Bear cubs also made their debut for Coke in a holiday ad in which the bear family selects its Christmas tree.


International Approaches at the Millennium

Numerous other ads in the "Always Coca-Cola" campaign were introduced over the course of the next seven years (1993-2000). Appealing to people's enjoyment of the cola taste and the refreshment it provides, the commercials used a variety of approaches—humor, music, stories, animation, and even Shakespearean parody—in an effort to build on the emotional connection between Coca-Cola and its consumers.

On the international front, The Coca-Cola Company launched a television commercial in 1998 for the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan. Created by McCann-Erickson (Malaysia), the commercial was titled "Charity" and marked the company's first attempt to have one Ramadan television commercial for its entire worldwide market. In the past, the brand's Ramadan commercials had been made by local advertising agencies in each country, but the "Charity" ad ran in twenty Islamic countries including Malaysia, Indonesia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Egypt, Lebanon, and Morocco.

Eight months were required to execute the ad's story line. Initially, representatives from McCann-Erickson and Coca-Cola researched perceptions, similarities, and dissimilarities in the observance of Ramadan in several major Muslim cities. The research showed that the spiritual aspect of Ramadan—the emphasis on the values of love, charity and forgiveness—was universal. With this information, McCann senior account director Ahmad Shukri Rifaie came up with a simple story of charity and friendship brought to life by a child.

In the ad, a young boy and his mother bring small gifts to an orphanage: the mother gives a rug and basket of food and the boy donates a bottle of Coca-Cola. At the orphanage, the boy plays football with some of the orphans and makes friends with them. Later, after the breaking of the fast, the boy scampers back to the orphanage to break fast—and share the Coca-Cola—with his new-found friends. The commercial ends with the words "Always in good spirit. Always Coca-Cola'' (in Bahasa Malaysia, "Dengan Tulus Iklas. Pastinya Coca-Cola").

<nobr>Coca-Cola</nobr> first experience advertisement

First Experience

Following the success of this effort, The Coca-Cola Company launched an ambitious new international ad campaign in January 2000. Using the slogan "Coca-Cola. Enjoy," the campaign was designed to appeal to people all over the world by persuading them that Coke adds a touch of magic to the special moments in their lives. Believing that Coke is one of life's most common and affordable pleasures in many countries, the company conceived of the new slogan as an invitation to consumers throughout the world to enjoy Coca-Cola and life's simple pleasures. The theme was global, but the campaign used local resources in different countries to create individual commercials relevant to local tastes and cultures. And to unify the campaign with as much flexibility as possible, its creators developed a melody adaptable to a wide range of musical styles. Even as the campaign began, there were 140 versions of the tune set to words in forty languages.

The ads in the "Coca-Cola. Enjoy" campaign express its theme by trying to create images showing how Coca-Cola adds something special to everyday life. One spot by Leo Burnett USA, called "First Experience," follows a boy anticipating what a Coca-Cola will taste like by comparing it to a kiss. The spot was set in a small village outside Ouarzazat in a remote part of Morocco. The entire cast was from the village, which has no electricity, no television, and no Coca-Cola. The commercial was directed by John Madden, who directed the films Mrs. Brown and Shakespeare in Love.

John Madden also directed "Snowflakes," another spot by Leo Burnett USA. It shows a woman first as a young girl twirling in the snow and then as an adult on a beach, enjoying the moment—and a Coca-Cola. The actress playing the young girl is Italian and was cast in Milan, while the woman she grows up to be is played by a Greek actress who was cast in Athens. The commercial itself was filmed in two different areas in the Italian Alps and on a stage in Milan.


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