The following piece contains spoilers about the series finale of Mad Men.
Mad Men ended in perhaps the only way it could: with Don Draper buying the world a Coke.
After spending the better part of the finale in the throes of depression, Don wound up at a retreat facility with Anna Draper’s niece, Stephanie, and had an emotional breakthrough. But as the camera pulled close to his face—and Don let out an appropriately New Age-y “ommm”—the best creative director on Madison Avenue smiled. Cut to the famous 1971 Coke commercial, “I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke,” and the end of the entire series. Are we to believe Don went back to New York after his apparent epiphany and created the iconic ad? Seems that way! (The photo on the left is from the episode; on the right, a still from the Coke commercial.)
But in real life, the Coke ad wasn’t dreamed up by Don Draper. Instead, it came from an actual McCann Erickson creative director named Bill Backer. Stuck at an airport in Ireland due to bad weather, Backer apparently saw the power of the soft drink. From the Coke website:
The heavy fog in London forced the plane to land in Shannon, Ireland. Passengers had to remain near the airport in case the fog lifted. Some of them were furious about their accommodations. By the next day, Backer saw some of the most irate passengers in the airport cafe. Brought together by a common experience, many were now laughing and sharing stories over snacks and bottles of Coca-Cola.
Backer wrote of the scene: “In that moment [I] saw a bottle of Coke in a whole new light… [I] began to see a bottle of Coca-Cola as more than a drink that refreshed a hundred million people a day in almost every corner of the globe. So [I] began to see the familiar words, ‘Let’s have a Coke,’ as more than an invitation to pause for refreshment. They were actually a subtle way of saying, ‘Let’s keep each other company for a little while.’ And [I] knew they were being said all over the world as [I] sat there in Ireland. So that was the basic idea: 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.”
Watch the original ad below. Check out EW’s Mad Men recap here.