Are companies selling, or preaching?
Source: Coca-Cola Company
In 1971 Coke produced their “Hilltop” ad, where 500 young people sing about furnishing a home with love, and buying the world a Coke. The ad cost over $250 thousand to produce, a staggering amount at the time. The multi-racial chorus hold bottles of Coke labeled in English, Arabic, Hindi, and Afrikaans. The message is clear: if we can just have a Coke together, the world could be a more harmonious place.
The ad went viral. Listeners called radio stations, begging to hear it again. The company received over 100,000 letters about the commercial. A new musical group called themselves “The Hillside Singers” and released a record version, which went straight to the top of the national charts. The ad has been re-made multiple times, with a Christmas version, a Disney version, even a NASCAR version. It was even featured in the final scene of “Mad Men” a couple years ago.
But did it sell soda?
The commercial has consistently been voted one of the best of all time, and the sheet music still sells today. Glee clubs and church choirs and marching banks perform it all over the world. It didn’t just promote a soft drink. It presented a world view.
The ad is part of a whole strain of moralizing marketing, where Airbnb touts acceptance, Starbucks brags about hiring vets, and Panera Bread adopts the slogan, “Food as It Should Be.” These ads aren’t just promoting stuff, they’re making a moral argument – encouraging us to be more inclusive and accepting by buying their wares. The companies are trying to win converts, not customers.
Ads are the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves. “Hilltop” worked dramatically well because it fit a cultural moment when race riots and war protests and “mutually assured destruction” were exposing national rifts that had everyone worried. The ad suggested that we could create connections and help heal the world by just drinking a Coke. Who wouldn’t want to do that?
Douglas R. Tengdin, CFA