The Invention Of Coke Motivates ‘Mad Men’ Finale & ‘Happyish’ Entrée

Where an iconic TV show ends, another begins. Mad Men and Happyish are separated by eight years in real-time but actually over 50 years in their respective fictional timelines. Both plots focus on the inner-workings of an advertising agency. The former documents how we were romanced into believing in promotional hype, while the latter’s reality check is a result of a healthy dose of buyer-beware skepticism and a growing social-media savvy consumer base.

The narrative thread that ties the two together is the deft choice of using one landmark TV commercial to define the difference in the two eras. The synchronicity at play here is that they aired on the same night - May 17, 2015.


Did you know Coca-Cola has been on our planet for over 125 years?  When it formula was first invented by pharmacist John Stith Pemberton in 1886, not only did it become the world’s most sought-after soft drink, it has sustained that popularity over a century. It's a product that's stood the test of time. So it’s fitting that in 1971, an ad man by the name of Bill Backer who served as creative director on the Coke account for the real-life McCann Erickson ad agency is credited with developing one of the world’s most popular commercials to date.

The Coca-Cola Archives interviewed Backer in 2007 about his role in creating the famous Coca-Cola ad.  The commercial -- dubbed the “Hilltop” ad -- was recorded in Rome and cost more than $250,000 to produce, according to Coca-Cola.

“I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke” was released in the United States in July 1971, becoming a classic advertising moment, reflecting 1970s optimism and social awareness. An alternate version of the song, titled “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing (in Perfect Harmony),” also became a radio hit for the New Seekers and a U.S.-based group called the Hillside Singers.

However, as witnessed during these airing, Mad Men and Happyish had two diverse takes on what Coke meant to us in the 1970s and 2015.

Happyish vs. Mad Men

So how did it come to be that both shows about the creative minds of advertising execs should hone in on the same exact commercial to make a point? Did the producers of Happyish possibly get wind of Mad Men's season finale ending, or was this just happenstance, a coincidence. . . synchronicity at work?

There is some evidence to believe that it might have been the former. When Happyish’s British lead actor Steve Coogan was questioned recently about his show’s approach to the world of advertising, hedrew a marked disparity to AMC’s Mad Men.

"This is the antidote to Mad Men, which is a fantastic series, but this is a reality check, the very unromanticized view of the world, and that's why I like it," said star Steve Coogan at Monday's New York premiere, held at the Sunshine Cinema.

His opinion about advertising sees the Mad Men of the 21st Century as disillusioned souls lacking a moral compass. "There's something intrinsically sinister about convincing people to buy things they don't need. That's at the heart of the series — the moral dilemma of whether we do things because we want to or just to get a paycheck at the end of the day,” adds Coogan.

Ironically, when we were first introduced to the Don Draper character back in 2007, he schooled us that “advertising was based on one thing: Happiness.” Happyish’s Thom Payne character, on the other believes that while advertising led us to believe we’re just one possession away from happiness, indeed that ideal state is not only unobtainable, its a myth perpetrated by companies like Coca-Cola.

To “grow apple trees and honey bees and snow-white turtle doves,” while “teaching the world to sing in perfect harmony,” is a utopia that perhaps a Don Draper could envision on a California hilltop in the series finale, but it’s certainly not the real world of planet Happyish.

Radical Happiness

And certainly not the world wher Thom Payne resides. Instead, he frequents a world where even though winning in the conception race, the ‘single sperm’ has a 50 million-chance-to-win, it’s a zero-sum gain. Why? Because the winner is awarded two prizes. The first is life, but the cruel joke is the second is death. And according Payne’s superior Jonathan Cooke (played brilliantly by Bradley Whitford) “you can’t be a winner in that kind of race without being an asshole!”

So when pitching Coke at the end of Season 1, Episode 4, Payne’s summarizes that the soda company should no longer be selling happiness, but rather ‘angry bliss’ or ‘radical happiness’ -- because that’s the best that it gets here on Earth. It’s either that — or summoning the mothership to come and take us home to another planet. After all, down through the ages, it’s been said, “the grass is always greener!” But that’s another ad campaign, and fodder for another day!

Have a radically happy day!