I hope you enjoy this short essay I wrote about my favorite television commerical of all time. 


Advertising is a multi-billion dollar industry whose purpose is to not only sell products but to also create a receptive environment, commonly referred to as a market, in which to sell those products. Advertisers create this receptive market by appealing to the emotions, logic, and trust of the consumers to whom they wish to sell. Rarely do advertisements succeed in all three appeals; but it can and does happen. Such was the case when Coca Cola launched its now world renowned “I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke” (Coca Cola Television Advertising Home Page) television commercial in July, 1971. For its time, Coca Cola created a virtually perfect commercial by tapping most strongly into its audience’s emotions while at the same time, although somewhat less noticeably, appealing to its trust of Coca Cola and its sense of reason.

As the scene opens the audience sees a close-up shot of an approximately twenty-year-old white female. Her blonde hair is feathered around her pleasingly oval face. She has rosy cheeks and a clear complexion. Her eyes are a deep glistening blue. She is looking skyward with an expression of earnest joy and peace. In a crisp alto voice she begins to sing, a cappella, “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” (Coca Cola Television Advertising Home Page). As the music begins to play, accompanying her words, the camera pulls back a bit. The audience can now see that she is standing between and behind a dark-skin middle-eastern man wearing a turtleneck sweater and a white woman with short red hair dressed in a Swiss peasant blouse. Both of them are holding an open bottle of Coca Cola. They begin to sing with the first woman. The middle-eastern man and the woman wearing the Swiss peasant blouse are also looking skyward.

As they sing in harmony, the camera slowly pans right. As it does, a myriad of young men and women from around the world including France, Nigeria, China, Japan, India, Norway, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Chile, Ireland, Peru, Panama, The United States, Israel and elsewhere each dressed in his/her native apparel moves across the television screen. Each person, looking skyward with an expression of joy and love, is holding an open bottle of Coca Cola while singing, “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.” (Coca Cola Television Advertising Home Page)

The scene fades being replaced by a wide shot where the audience can now see that the hundreds of young men and women are standing on a hilltop on a beautiful clear day. The sky is amazingly blue and there is a hint of wind as their hair lazily waves back and forth as they sing. The music and the singers are in perfect harmony as they hold their open bottles of Coca Cola and sing to the world. 
“For years advertisers in the United States reflected the place of non-Whites in the social fabric of the nation either by ignoring them or, when they were included in advertisement for the mass audience, processing and presenting them in a way that would make them palatable sales persons for the products being advertised” (Wilson and Gutierrez 573). This philosophy suggested that non-whites could not be presented as equals when pushing a product to a white market. Coca Cola decided to reject this viewpoint. It wanted to reach consumers on a visceral level. In order to accomplish  this it had to show its product, Coke, being enjoyed by all people from all around the world existing together and in peace with equal social status. It had to create a believable place for them to exist. It would not have made sense to show UN ambassadors sipping Coke at some high-level meeting. Why not? Because few would have believed the scenario and, more importantly, most of their target audience would have never attended any high-level ambassadorial meetings. However, most people at one time or another have stood on a hilltop with friends sipping a cold drink. Thus, Coke successfully appealed to it’s audience’s emotions by evoking altruistic love for mankind what ever his skin color.

Any company who wishes to successfully appeal to its target market’s sense of trust must have a credible product. For decades Coke had positioned itself as the “Real Thing”. That is to say that Coke wanted its market to see it as genuine. In the commercial, the audience can clearly see that the young people from around the world are singing to the world because they love it, both the world and Coca Cola. They are trying to bring peace to everyone because they love everyone. Love, not violence, sex, or ambition, but love is a genuine and honorable emotion. It makes sense, then, to pair a genuine moment like peaceful people on a hilltop with an ice cold bottle of genuine Coca Cola. Coke successfully appealed to its audience’s sense of trust by showing a real moment with a product that was perceived as genuine even before the commercial aired. 

In most western cultures meals are shared by both family and friends. Mealtime is often thought of as not only a time in which to ingest sustenance but also as a time to relax, unwind, and share different ideas in order to gain a greater understanding of the world. In Coke’s commercial, it successfully appeals to its audience’s sense of reason by suggesting that Coca Cola, like a good meal, can serve as a bridge to understanding others and thus, make the world a better place. 

In 1971 there were only three television networks in the United States, ABC, CBS, and NBC. Coke launched its 1971 advertising campaign on all three networks during what is now referred to as prime-time. Its target audience was everyone, young or old, black or white, rich or poor. 

In 1971 Coca Cola set out to change the way the world thought of its products. It did so by rejecting the advertising dogma of the day and, for the first time by any major company, showed its product in the hands of all of the people of the world standing side-by-side in peace. It appealed to its audience’s sense of equality and love for mankind. It successfully appealed to its audience’s sense of trust and reason by positioning itself as the “Real Thing” and by suggesting that only the “Real Thing” can be used to build bridges of understanding to the peoples of the world.  

As written on Countrywide Gold USA.com, “I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke has had a lasting connection with the viewing public. Advertising surveys consistently identify it as one of the best commercials of all time, and the sheet music continues to sell more than thirty years after the song was written. Such is the power of television advertising that through the enduring popularity of this ad, at least, Coke has borne out something of Backer’s ambitious claims for it, becoming a common connection among people” (I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing).

Click Here to Watch the Commercial.

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June 2007
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