People’s Insights Volume 1, Issue 32: Hilltop Re-imagined for Coca Cola

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Classic ad re-launched with a digital twist

In 2011, Google partnered with Coca Cola to re-create the iconic 1971 Hilltop TV commercial for a digital era, enabling people to “buy the world a Coke” using their mobile phones – and Google technologies.




The campaign stands out for two reasons. First, the campaign’s achievement of Coca Cola’s 40 year dream of connecting people across the world over a Coke. Second, the award winning story Google created to promote its products to advertisers.


The original 1971 Hilltop ad

In 1971, creative director Bill Backer saw people bonding over Coke at an international airport, and penned the line, “I wish I could buy the world a Coke.” He transformed this into a radio jingle, and art director Harvey Gabor came up with a concept for the television commercial: The First United Chorus of the World (via Coke Lore).

The television commercial showed young people from around the world singing “I’d like to buy the world a Coke,” from a hilltop in Italy. In their hands were bottles of Coke from their native countries.

The ad struck an emotional chord, delivering a message of unity in a time when the Vietnam War was growing increasingly unpopular in America. People called radio stations requesting they repeat the jingle, and sent over 100,000 letters to Coca Cola. This inspired the producer Billy Davis to release a full length song, titled “I wish I could Teach the World to Sing (in Perfect Harmony),”which become a Top 10 hit on national charts.

The Hilltop ad entered the Advertising Hall of Fame, and caught the attention of Google forty years later, when Google launched Project Re:Brief to re-imagine classic ads.


The re-imagined campaign

Google worked with the now retired Harvey Gabor on the re-imagined version of the Hilltop ad.



Using mobile apps and interactive display ads on YouTube, people could send a Coke to specially designed vending machines in New York City, Mountain View California, Cape Town and Buenos Aires, along with a short text or video message. A video animation showed the Coke being sent to its destination on Google Maps, and a free Coke was dispensed at the destination in real time.

Receivers could share their appreciation via text and video messages which were then emailed to the senders and uploaded to YouTube. Text messages that were in a foreign language were translated to English courtesy of Google Translate.

The videos generated show a young boy in America sending a Coke, messages being shared between Cape Town and Buenos Aires, and a man in New York expressing that this was ‘the best Coke he’s ever had.’

Here’s our favorite video, where an 18 year old from New York sends his ‘first gift to a stranger’ :

Harvey Gabor was touched when he saw that the digital medium had made his 40 year old dream a reality:

“Forty years ago Bill Backer and myself had a wish, and that was to buy the world a Coke. I am honored to have lived long enough to see that wish become a reality.”

Response to the re-imagined ad

Created as part of Google’s B2B outreach to advertisers, the re-imagined campaign was executed on a small scale, with vending machines in only four cities. But those who heard about the campaign wanted to see it launched full-scale and in more locations.

YouTube user Camerontrotter12 commented:

“Please Coke and Google, for all that is good in the world, make this happen!”

YouTube user ChalkeyProductions commented on the potential for this campaign to create a movement for social change:

“This really should be released and not just be a prototype. If eventually you could gift Coke globally, not only would this finally complete the original vision, but it could inspire other companies to do the same thing, and eventually vending machines could be placed in lesser fortunate areas and people could buy food via iOS and Android devices for them. The potential is endless.”

The re-imagined ad also inspired budding advertising. As YouTube user Cr00nger commented:

“This made me tear up a bit. I hope I’ll be able to do something like this in my career, before I turn 30.”


Spreading happiness

In our previous weekly insight, we pointed out that brands are now beginning to crowdsource acts of kindness, empowering people to spread happiness on their behalf. The re-imagined ad is a good example of this.

Coke has always been an evangelist of happiness, evident in the 1971 Hilltop ad and its current day positioning, “open happiness.’ This campaign takes that evangelism to the next level, empowering people to both spread and experience happiness.

Jackie Jantos, Global Creative Director, Coca-Cola commented that this is what they set out to achieve:

“What we’re trying to do is move from online community talking about happiness to provoking it in real life.”

Advertising agency Bates Creative pointed out that Coca Cola also succeeded in engaging fans and creating brand advocates:

“Not only does this get fans involved through a mobile app, it also creates the mindset of wanting to share the happiness that a Coke evokes to a complete stranger. At Bates Creative, that’s why we think Coca-Cola is a brand that gets It. It’s all about inspiring your audience to become an active member for your brand.”

Source: YouTube


The bigger story – Google Project Re:Brief

Google embarked on Project Re:Brief, to inspire advertisers to explore the creative potential of the digital medium, and  to showcase innovative ways to use Google technologies.

Aman Govil, Product Marketing Manager, Google, described the goal:

“We started thinking, how do we show what’s actually possible when you combine great creative ideas with technology… Until today, we’ve been doing digital advertising. What we’re trying to do is, do a subtle mind shift from digital advertising to advertising for the digital age.”

While demonstrating the power of the medium was one half of the challenge, Google also needed to speak the language of advertisers, and craft a winning story.

Google did this by roping in the original ad men on the four iconic ads re-imagined, sharing their story, and documenting the challenge of re-imagining the ads – both on the web and in a feature length documentary.

Elements of storytelling are apparent even in the way Google promotes the Re-Imagined Hilltop ad for Coca Cola. Instead of just focusing on the innovation, Google focuses on the vision behind the campaign (to fulfill a 40 year old brand promise), and uses video to capture the emotions of the people touched by the campaign.

Jim Lecinski, Vice President, US Sales & Service, Google, said:

“We started to think about how Web ads can move from being informative and transactional to delighting and engaging, stirring the soul and building a brand.”

Indeed, these efforts were successful in getting the attention of advertisers, and winning their approval. Project Re:Brief has received widespread coverage in advertising publications, 580,314 views on its YouTube channel, and was awarded the inaugural Mobile Lions Grand Prix at Cannes this year.


(MSLGROUP’s People’s Lab crowdsourcing platform and approach helps organizations tap into people’s insights for innovation, storytelling and change. The People’s Lab crowdsourcing platform also enables our distinctive insights and foresight approach, which consists of four elements: organic conversation analysis, MSLGROUP’s own insight communities, client-specific insights communities, and ethnographic deep dives into these communities.

As an example, 50+ thinkers and planners within MSLGROUP share and discuss inspiring projects on corporate citizenship, crowdsourcing and storytelling on the MSLGROUP Insights Network. Every week, we pick up one project and do a deep dive into conversations around it — on the MSLGROUP Insights Network itself but also on the broader social web — to distill insights and foresights. We share these insights and foresights with you on our People’s Insights blog and compile the best insights from the network and the blog in the iPad-friendly People’s Lab Quarterly Magazine, as a showcase of our capabilities.

As you can imagine, we can bring the same innovative approach to help you distill insights and foresights from conversations and communities. To start a conversation on how we can help you win with insights and foresights, write to Pascal Beucler at

Nidhi Chimnani

Nidhi Chimnani

Nidhi is Director of Research and Insights at MSLGROUP. She tracks digital consumer trends for People’s Insights and is community manager of MSLGROUP’s insights community SPRINT. Tweet her at @nidhichimnani

3 Responses to “People’s Insights Volume 1, Issue 32: Hilltop Re-imagined for Coca Cola”

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