Harvey Gabor Helped Teach The World To Sing. The Rest Is History.

The “06880” tagline is “Where Westport meets the world.”

The whole world. Even the make-believe world of “Mad Men.”

It took me a while, but I finally tracked down Westport’s real-life connection with the make-believe Don Draper.

Coke ad 3On the heels of last Sunday’s much-talked-about, social media-saturated series finale, new light has been shined on the once-beloved, now-super-syrupy Coke commercial.

Coke adCoke adCoke adCoke ad Thanks to the interwebs, everyone who wants to know now does know that Bill Backer, creative director on the Coca-Cola account at McCann-Erickson, scribbled “I’d like to buy the world a Coke” on a napkin after his London flight was diverted to Shannon, Ireland.

And — 44 years after the fact — once again the New Seekers’ song has burrowed its way into our brain.

But few folks remember that it was McCann-Erickson art director Harvey Gabor’s idea to bring 500 multi-colored, joyful, blue jeans-and-dashiki-and-sari-clad, Coked-out faces onto an Italian hillside, for a phenomenally expensive (at the time) $250,000-plus shoot. Without that visual, the song — and commercial — would have been about as memorable as anything Pepsi did at the time.

And fewer still know that Harvey Gabor was — ta da! — a Westporter. (Okay, he only lived here from 1983 to ’91 — working for a local agency that no longer exists — but this is still a great story.)

Though the “Hilltop” ad is a classic, it took a ton of work. Bad weather — first in London, then in the new site of Rome — caused frustrating delays. Gabor had to find a new “lead female” (a British governess pushing a baby carriage in the Piazza Navona). Some of the best shots came as his crew dodged power and telephone lines.

Harvey Gabor (right) shooting the "Hilltop" ad in Tuscany.

Harvey Gabor (right) shooting the “Hilltop” ad in Italy.

Gabor — who is now 81 years old, retired and living with his wife Barbara in Michigan — went on to win 4 gold medals, 5 Clios and over 100 certificate awards for print and TV ads.

The “Hilltop” commercial, meanwhile, has been inducted into the Advertising Hall of Fame

It’s the real thing.


Harvey Gabor in 2012.

Harvey Gabor in 2012.

Click below for a fascinating video of Harvey Gabor visiting — and talking with, teaching at and learning from — Google’s New York headquarters, on an updated Coke campaign:

(For Harvey Gabor’s website — including information about his book Peeing With David Ogilvy, click hereFor the official Coca-Cola version of the making of the ad — including great details like how Harvey discovered the lead female role pushing a baby carriage — click here. Hat tip: Neil Brickley)

13 responses to “Harvey Gabor Helped Teach The World To Sing. The Rest Is History.

  1. And another Westporter was the lead singer on the Clio-Award winning Pepsi Generation TV commercial – Suzanne Sheridan.

  2. Amazing. Of course, there’s a connection! Very bland and strange ending to one of the greatest TV shows ever imo. At least Peggy got it all.

  3. Don Luciano

    Great commercial, great google video, great man. Congrats on the well deserved attention Mr. Gabor

  4. Fascinating additional background info on what was–and is–a truly iconic commercial. And BJ, I had the opposite reaction: I thought the ending was brilliant (and I felt the same way about the opening with its incorporation of another iconic commercial from that era).

  5. Cheryl McKenna

    Another great story Dan … Always look forward to your perspective and the people who once lived here.
    I loved the ending and thought Don got back his creative juice and some peace in his life to go forward in a more balanced way …

  6. Jamie Walsh

    Really amazing!

  7. Barbara Sherburne '67

    This was all very interesting. Thanks for posting it. I shared it on Facebook. Could you explain how to share a Coke with someone across the country or in another country? I think I missed that part in the Re-imagining Coca-Cola “Hilltop.”

  8. Wow, Dan, thanks !!! And thanks Harvey for one of my all time favorite songs. Just as amazing is the ‘reimagining’ video where Harvey goes to Google and they create Coke machines through which one can actually send a Coke around the world !!! I found it by clicking on one of Dan’s links.