The 1960s and early 1970s was a rough time in the United States – 1968 alone gave us the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy and riots at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. Vietnam War protests were occurring on college campuses across the country – 1970 brought the Kent State University shootings.
Out of this mayhem rose Bill Backer (born June 9, 1926 – died May 13, 2016). In 1971, his flight to London was forced to land in Ireland thanks to fog at his destination airport. “The next morning, Mr. Backer was stunned to see the diverse group of passengers who had been angry the night before cheerfully conversing in the coffee shop… ‘People from all over the world, forced by circumstance, were having a Coke – or a cup of coffee or tea – together.’” (Roberts, 2016). Bill Backer was the adman who brought us this commercial, introduced to a new generation in the final episode of Madmen.
In this one-minute commercial – music video, really – Backer tells us that while we all may be different in so many ways, by sharing a Coke, we are all part of a single ingroup. During such a fractious time period, what a wonderful message: Hey everyone, let’s just have a Coke and sing as one – if only just for a minute.
In 2016, on the eve of a U.S. presidential election, with the country feeling as divided as ever, I would love to see someone, including an advertiser, step forward and offer a unifying message. I tell my students that what would bring about world peace is being attacked by aliens from outer space (one heck of a superordinate goal), but I much prefer the ingroupiness invoked by a serene image of all of us on a hilltop, singing together with a Coke in hand.
For a quick classroom demonstration, show the video to your students. Ask students in pairs, small groups, or as a class, to posit some possible ingroups for the people on the hilltop before they gathered there (e.g., culture, country of origin), and then identify the dominant ingroup conveyed by the commercial (e.g., Coke drinkers). Conclude the exercise by saying, “And if you’re drinking a Coke, you’re part of that ingroup.”
Bonus tip: If you do buy the world a Coke, you'll probably feel happier -- "Doing good... makes us feel good" (Myers, 2014).
Myers, D. G., & DeWall, C. N. (2014). Psychology in everyday life (3rd ed.). New York, NY: Worth.
Roberts, S. (2016, May 16). Bill Backer, who taught the world (and Don Draper) to sing, dies at 89. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/17/business/bill-backer-who-taught-the-world-and-don-draper-to-sing-dies-at-89.html