Coca Cola Classic Never Goes Out of Style

As each new year comes to a close, I like to look back and get a little nostalgic.

The word ‘nostalgia’ comes from the ancient Greek language, a combination of two words: “nostos,” meaning ‘a return home, travel, journey’ and the word “algos,” meaning ‘pain, grief.’

This would roughly translate back in ancient times as ‘the pain from an old wound,’ but the colloquial modern use still captures at least some of that essence – “a bittersweet yearning for the things of the past.” The pain from looking back – a warm memory, but one you know you can’t ever really return to.

So all you have left is a memory that simultaneously feels good and hurts a bit.

Even in todays fast paced world, ware fads come and go in a matter of weeks, and movie, television, & recording stars just sail briefly through the public consciousness, people still respond to nostalgia. I know that I certainly do.

As to the power of modern nostalgia, I think it’s mostly because the things that trigger the memories are now more real than they have ever been in the past.

While past generations had to rely on old stories passed down as cornerstones of memory, the modern era has recorded video and audio – methods that appeal to two powerful senses, sight and sound.

So I believe our modern sense of nostalgia is therefore much more real, since we can literally go back to the sights and sounds of the past and experience ‘bittersweet yearning’ in ways prior generations simply could not.

And why is the feeling so potent? We can go back to that video or audio and suddenly a link to the past is formed. And in most cases, there is a strong perception that the time past was just better and more fulfilling.

Was it really all that much better? It doesn’t matter. The memory and perception is what’s important. Memory can be a funny thing, of course. We tend to exaggerate things, especially the extremes. The good seems a bit better, and the bad can seem worse if you’re not careful.

Indeed, the passing of time combined with wisdom does tend to minimize the bad, and that’s a good thing.

How’s this for a segue?

Which brings me to one of my all time favorite television commercials. The advertising whizzes who thought this one up sure caught lightning in a bottle – Coca Cola somehow associated with an infectious, folksy, feel good, hippy-dippy song, featuring smiling faces from around the world all getting along.

“I’d like to teach the world to sing” is indeed a classic commercial (and there are so few of those around). An unforgettable image and an unforgettably simple melody & lyrics.

Coca Cola seemed to run this commercial for most of the 1970s, and why not? It pushes all the right buttons and even a relatively young curmudgeon like me can’t resist its basic appeal.

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“I’d like to teach the world to sing” (1971)
“I’d like to teach the world to sing” (1991)
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“I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing” by The New Seekers
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Twenty years later, a different set of ad executives once again had a flash of genuine inspiration and tried to capture lightning in a bottle once again. The plan was uncomplicated – reunite the smiling faces from the 1970s commercial, and this time add their children – a new generation of Coca Cola drinkers, and recreate the song and imagery for a new era.

It’s just the type of thing that gets botched 98 times out of 100. But I think they really succeeded. If memory serves, they carted out the 20th Anniversary commercial at The Super Bowl that year, assuring that it would get maximum exposure and word of mouth the next day in homes, schools, and offices.

Note that while audio and video appeal to the senses in bringing forth powerful nostalgic feelings, this ad very cleverly incorporates the sense of taste to the experience. Just a few years earlier, Coke had introduced their infamous ‘New Coke,’ tinkering with a successful formula. That experiment was a failure.

Coke quickly re-introduced ‘Coca Cola Classic’ – a clever use of nostalgia in itself. So the 20th Anniversary commercial connects with people using another potent source of memory – taste!

Just a fantastic piece of work. They patterned the 20th Anniversary ad fairly closely to the original, which is clear when you watch them both. It’s very well crafted, and whoever worked on it really knew what they were doing.

I particularly like the 23 second mark as the original generation turns slightly to face their children as they skip into the frame, singing the updated ‘Coca Cola Classic’ jingle, woven masterfully into the original song. I confess I get some goosebumps and a bit choked up as the 20th Anniversary commercial ends with the text scrolling, much as the original commercial concluded.

Those few who know me well know I am a sucker for nostalgia and sentimentality (though I like to think I do a good job of camouflaging it). A pleasant melody from the past, warm friendly faces, happy young children singing. Love and family. It doesn’t get any better.

And while the imagery ostensibly speaks to a global theme, the truth is that this ad is quintessentially American. People from all over the world can gather on an hillside in Italy, but the message is unmistakable (if unintentional). It speaks to Americans, who have come from every corner of the globe to be part of the greatest nation on earth.

And truly, Coca Cola is about as American as Mom, Baseball, & Apple Pie.

Ultimately, with a slight tear in my eye, it’s nice to remember that though things may change, it’s our job to make things change for the better. But it’s a warn, wonderful feeling to know that the memories of the past are there to bring us a joyful feeling.

And in the end you just can’t beat the feeling. You can’t beat the real thing.

Happy New Year!