If you are a Mad Men fan, no doubt you have seen the series finale by now. Don Draper’s final shot shows him meditating. The scene fades and is followed by the iconic 1971 Coca-Cola commercial, “I’d Like to Buy the Word a Coke.” I’ll let you draw your own conclusions about what that all means with regard to the show and its comment on advertising, happiness, and all that jazz. My point with today’s blog is just an observation on how much things have changed yet in some ways have stayed the same.
Compare the “I’d Like to Buy the Word a Coke” commercial to Coke’s 2015 ad during the Super Bowl.
Let me preface my upcoming comments with this: yes, I know that soda pop, along with most anything else marketed on television/online, can’t bring happiness or unity to people in and of itself. Actually, that is really my point. The 1971 hilltop commercial uses the idea of people uniting in a shared moment with Coca-Cola being a common experience/item with which they can all relate. The commercial implies (or at least, I infer) that the desire to do good propelled these people together in that moment, and Coke happened to be something they enjoyed together as part of it. In the 2015 commercial, people are basically a bunch of jerks (or victims) and thanks to the magic of an accidental Coke spill on a server, everything gets better . . . . sweeter. People-centered versus product-centered empowerment.
Don’t get me wrong: I like the intentions of the 2015 ad. Who doesn’t want to stop needless bullying and the hurtful behavior in general that seems so widespread these days? With that said, the product didn’t empower people or cause people to have a moment together. It just soothed the people through some sort of weird internet, hive mind messaging. This isn’t a slam on advertising as much as an observation about our culture. When you observe these two moments in advertising history, you could draw some general conclusions: before the internet, people got together and tried to relate to one another; post-internet, people are isolated victims staring at screens hoping to be comforted.
As much as the internet has connected us, it has also left many of us floundering in social ineptitude or times of isolation. You may have thousands of Facebook friends and Twitter followers, but who is going to comfort you when your pet dies or you lose your job? Who is going to celebrate with you when you get a big promotion or get engaged? A thumbs up on Facebook cannot replace the comfort of a sympathetic hug from a close friend or the joyful smiles and laughter shared with friends and family during a time of celebration. I’d like to see more soda/beer/other product commercial showing people using products as an offline uniter — to get out there in “real life” to share authentic moments.
I know that sounds almost absurd — commercials showing authentic moments. However, there are authentic moments we share over brands every day, aren’t there? How many times have you met up with a friend at Starbucks to enjoy one another’s company? Have you ever bought a buddy his favorite brand of beer to share on that hot day he helped you move to an upstairs apartment? What about the time your mom taught you how to make her special biscuit recipe and how you learned that her “secret ingredients” include, very specifically, White Lily Flour and Crisco (no substitutions!)? I prefer to think of brands as being part of a moment rather than the creators of moments, but maybe that’s where many people are right now — consumers of experiences rather than creators.
Regardless of the differences between the 1971 and 2015 commercials and experiences that I’ve mentioned above, one thing Coke does have a handle on is that people do yearn for connection and acceptance. That’s something that hasn’t changed since 1971. Maybe it’s even more powerful now than then. We just have to find a way to break the tethers of always-connectedness to get really connected to the world and people around us.
By the way . . . . while I like a good story-filled commercial, my favorites are ones that are hilarious. This A & W Rootbeer is my all-time favorite. Enjoy!