Coca-Cola … Bill Backer … and I’d Like To Teach the World To Sing!
I doubt that “Coca-Cola” needs any further description or clarification, and a song is a song, except this story is about a particular song … which we’ll discuss shortly. However, you likely wonder who Bill Backer is and where does he fit into this picture.
Mr. Backer became a true star and creative force in the advertising world after he hired the popular singing group, the New Seekers, to record a series of advertising jingles for Coca-Cola. This was 1971; however the tremendous success of the campaign wasn’t really the result of the New Seekers doing the singing or even that Coke in particular was the advertiser.
If you are old enough, you likely know the song I’m talking about is “I’d Like To Teach the World To Sing in Perfect Harmony,” transformed from the original Coca-Cola jingle words: “I’d like to buy the world a Coke and keep it company.” While having its beginnings as an audio-only advertising jingle, Mr. Backer eventually got permission to record a visual version with a group of 100 young people from all corners of the world singing the Coke song while standing on a hillside in Italy … which has become one of the most beloved advertising jingles on all time.
While I was fully aware of the melody which gained worldwide fame and the commercial which with revised lyrics went on to become a popular hit song, I didn’t know the back story until a few months ago. That’s when I discovered a book titled “The Care and Feeding of Ideas,” which was written by Bill Backer as his long and highly successful career was coming to an end and he was retiring to his horse farm in northern Virginia. Note that the book is not new, it was published in 1993 … it’s just that I only recently discovered it––obviously after seeing it referenced somewhere. Yes, it’s still readily available from Amazon.
The germination––as Mr. Backer tells it––of this whole “Buy the world a Coke” concept began in Limerick, Ireland, where his London-bound flight had been diverted due to weather. He was on the way to the recording session with The New Seekers, who were to record three jingles for Coca-Cola. The missing part, however, was that Bill Backer, as creative head for the project was expected to arrive with at least a rough concept for each … and he’d meet up with his musical team to flesh out the three jingles and prepare for them to be sung … that very day. However, the critical issue of the moment was, he had no theme, no phrase, not a single word in mind for even one jingle!
Then, the next day, as he and others sat in the Shannon Airport, waiting for their flight to continue to England, they chatted with bottles of Coke in hand. Suddenly, he was struck with a thought revolving around peoples the world over coming together around a bottle of Coke … which led to the “Buy the world a Coke” theme, resulting in the giant hit as described above … for both Coke and Bill Backer.
The first half of “The Care and Feeding of Ideas” reads much like a textbook, or as Mr. Backer states, it’ll be “theory,” as most of us will never be involved in such a process as he was. However, the second half is much more interesting for the average reader, as there’s multiple stories related to the many memorable ad campaigns he was involved with through the second half of the 20th century, including Miller Beer and Campbell Soup.
Even though written 25 years ago and most of what happened occurred 30 to 50 years ago, I found the book’s contents insightful. Now, I only wish I’d discovered the book sooner, as Bill Backer passed away less than two years ago and lived his final years just across the Potomac River from where I am; I would have truly enjoyed visiting him.