Bill Backer, the lyricist turned American advertising icon who gifted the world with the famous “Hilltop” commercial’s catchy jingle, “I’d Like To Buy the World A Coke” in 1971, has died. According to The New York Times, the ad man, whose tune featured prominently in the Mad Men series finale one year ago, died at a hospital in Warrenton, Virginia, on Friday. He was 89.
Backer worked his way up from the bottom at McCann Erickson, the same agency that figured so prominently throughout Mad Men‘s seven-season run on AMC. He started in the mail room in 1954, but by 1972 he was named creative director for the entire company. Six years later, the agency promoted Backer to its vice chairman position. His latter promotions were due mainly to the “Hilltop” commercial’s resounding success, but as the Times‘ obituary points out, the astute advertiser also helped with some of McCann Erickson’s other famous projects. Like the “Things Go Better With Coke” and “The Real Thing” campaigns for Coca-Cola, Miller Lite’s “Everything you ever wanted in a beer… and less” slogan, and Campbell’s brilliant but simple “Soup is Good Food.”
After his many years at McCann Erickson, Backer joined forces with advertising columnist Carl Spielvogel and formed Backer & Spielvogel, which was raking in more than $400 million a year in 1984. However, “Hilltop” has long since remained Backer’s most famous cultural and commercial contribution. When interviewed by the Coca-Cola Archives in 2007, Backer said he was “proud” of the jingle’s legacy, but maintained that he wasn’t the only creative mind behind the tune.
After all, whether creativity is fostered for television shows, commercials, or both, it often takes more than one person to carry an idea from inception to presentation. Hence our own Brian Grubb‘s popular (and pre-Mad Men series finale) theory that the fictional ad man Don Draper (Jon Hamm) created, or helped create, the famous “I’d Like To Buy the World A Coke” advertisement. This isn’t what actually happened in the real world, of course, but considering Backer’s insistence on collaboration, perhaps there was a Draper-like individual on the McCann Erickson team.
For his part, Backer was never a hardcore fan of Matthew Weiner’s show. When CNN Money caught up with him after the famous final scene aired on May 18, 2015, he didn’t really have anything to say because he “didn’t see it.” Backer admitted watching the first two seasons, but stopped once it became “more of a soap opera” that was “more about the tangled lives of the people and less about the industry they were working in.”