Coca-Cola's premium position at the end of last night's "Mad Men" finale was the real thing, not a paid integration, according to the company.
Coke executives knew the brand would be featured in the show in some way because they gave the AMC show permission to use footage of the classic 1971 "Hilltop" spot. But Coke did not pay for the placement and the brand had limited visibility into how the ad would be used, according to a company spokeswoman.
As it turns out, Coke lucked into the kind of free PR all brands crave when the classic ad appeared in the final scene of the series just after Don Draper was seen chanting chanting "Om" in a yoga pose along the California coast. (Other brands on "Mad Men" haven't always gotten the kind of portrayal they would have scripted for themselves.)
Viewers Sunday night immediately speculated on social media that the show was implying that Don had just been inspired to create the "Hilltop" ad and, with that, to return to the ad industry.
The online conversation sparked a 991% increase in Coke's digital consumption after the episode aired, according to Amobee Brand Intelligence, a digital marketing company. Its "consumption" stat is a measure of how often a term or brand is seen online.
There were 21,204 tweets involving Coca-Cola in the three hours following the Mad Men finale, according to Amobee.
The free exposure is "pretty unprecedented in the history of television," according to Amobee. "It's turned the singalong spot into an instant viral hit 44 years in the making; with Coke already having gotten two weeks worth of consumption around them in less than a day."
For Coke, the PR could not come at a better time because nostalgia has played a key role in an ongoing campaign celebrating the 100th year anniversary of the brand's iconic bottle.
"We've had limited awareness around the brand's role in the series' final episodes, and what a rich story they decided to tell," Coke said in a statement today. "Mad Men is one of the most popular TV shows of all time, and 'Hilltop' is an iconic piece of Coca-Cola history. The finale gave everyone inside and outside the Company -- some for the first time -- a chance to experience the magic of 'Hilltop' within the context of its creation and the times."
Coke's appearance in the final episode has sparked new interest in the "Hilltop" ad, which in real life was the creation of Bill Backer, a former creative director at McCann Erickson. On "Mad Men," the agency was prominently featured in the final season after it acquired Mr. Draper's agency.
At the conclusion of the "Mad Men" finale, Coke tweeted a link to a 2012 story published on its corporate blog that told the real story of how the "Hilltop" ad was made.
Meanwhile, some Coke execs joined the fun with their own tweets, inclduing this one from James Sommerville, Coke's VP of global design.
The idea for the "Hilltop" ad was born Jan. 18, 1971, when a flight carrying Mr. Backer to London was diverted to Shannon, Ireland, as a result of heavy fog, according to Coca-Cola.
Mr. Backer "saw some of the most irate passengers in the airport cafe," the company blog post says. "Brought together by a common experience, many were now laughing and sharing stories over snacks and bottles of Coca-Cola. As a result, Mr. Backer was inspired 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 rest of the story can be found here.