"I'd like to buy the world a home, and furnish it with love," a young woman earnestly sings at the start of this Super Bowl VI ad out of McCann Erickson. The camera pulls back and we see another young woman and man join in on the next verse: “Grow apple trees and honey bees, and snow-white turtle doves." They're all holding bottles of Coca-Cola, as are the others we can see surrounding them as the camera pulls back even further. The chorus kicks in -- "I'd like to teach the world to sing, in perfect harmony" -- and now we see a multicultural cast of dozens of teens and twentysomethings all singing in, well, pretty good harmony amid a gorgeous, verdant vista.
What's going on here? Scrolling type spells it out (smartly crediting local bottlers all over the world).
The idea was born Jan. 18, 1971 -- a full year before Super Bowl VI -- when, according to Coca-Cola corporate lore, a flight carrying McCann Erickson Creative Director Bill Backer to London was diverted to Shannon, Ireland, as a result of heavy fog. Backer saw cranky passengers eventually bond at an airport cafe over their common experience while eating snacks and drinking Cokes.
As it happens, Backer had been flying to London meet up with Billy Davis, a jingle writer and McCann music director. Davis ended up co-writing (along with Roger Cook, Roger Greenaway and Backer) and producing the song “I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke” at the core of "Hilltop."
The spot actually first aired on national TV on July 8, 1971, but is widely remembered for its presence in Super Bowl VI.
In addition to being a signal moment in multicultural marketing, "Hilltop" rocked American and global pop culture. Studio singers assembled by Davis and dubbed The Hillside Singers released the "Hilltop" song as a single, minus references to Coke and retitled "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing (in Perfect Harmony)." It peaked at No. 13 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Another version of the song by British group The New Seekers hit No. 1 in the U.K. and other countries. (Backer's Lowenbrau jingle in the 1979 Super Bowl ad "Skiing" also became a single.)
Legend has it the production costs on "Hilltop," directed by Roberto Malenotti, spiralled upward to $250,000, making it, at the time, the most expensive commercial ever made.
Backer died in 2016, but he and "Hilltop" will continue to be remembered. "Mad Men" auteur Matthew Weiner appropriated it to cap the 2015 series finale. Coca-Cola ran a version called "Generations" in 1990's Super Bowl XXIV, and channeled the theme for "It's Beautiful."Send credit info to [email protected].