I'd Like To Buy The World A Coke

The story behind that Coca-Cola song.

Paul Nichols headshot
  • By Paul Nichols
  • 6 May 2011
  • min read

On 8 May 2011 Coca-Cola celebrates its 125th anniversary across the world. I'd Like To Buy The World A Coke has become one of the biggest advertising jingles of all time, and back in 2009 M spoke to Roger Greenaway, one half of the songwriting partnership behind this iconic ad jingle.

I’d Like To Buy The World A Coke became the biggest advertising jingle of all time when Coca-Cola took on the song for its global TV campaign in 1971. Unusually for an advert, it was translated into numerous languages and even gave birth to the Coca-Cola slogan ‘It’s The Real Thing’.

‘I hate that song,’ says Roger Greenaway dryly, at the same time admitting that it’s one of the most successful tunes he’s ever been involved with.

Among Roger’s other jingles are Cookability for British Gas and That’s Asda Price, which has endured since 1975. His many hit songs include Something’s Gotten Hold Of My Heart and, Greenaway’s own favourite, You’ve Got Your Troubles.

But when it comes to his best known commercial worldwide, Roger has artistic reasons for disliking the song.

‘From 1966 to 1972, Roger Cook and I had a contract with New York advertising agency McCann-Erickson, who held the Coke account. We used to have about six meetings a year with them, either in the States or in London,’ recalls Greenaway.

‘We’d take tunes along to those meetings to see which they liked and that’s how it was with I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing. We played Bill Backer and Billy Davis the melody, which they loved, so we sat down and wrote the original song True Love and Apple Pie, which had a verse, a bridge and a middle eight. They didn’t think the lyric worked though for Coca Cola, so they rewrote it as I’d Like To Buy The World A Coke.’

Destined for radio, the advert required a two-minute song, so the writing team called in The New Seekers to record it. However, a three-month radio campaign in the United States saw the commercial fizzle out.

‘Then one of the TV guys at McCann-Erickson, Harvey Gabor, came up with the concept of a group of youngsters of all different colours and creeds standing on a hill drinking coke, but he needed a song for the advert,’ continues Greenaway.

‘Bill gave him access to the library of everything that Coke had used and he came out brandishing I’d Like To Buy The World A Coke.’

The commercial was supposed to be filmed in England, but bad weather forced a relocation to a hilltop near Rome. One of the untold stories of the filming was that a helicopter used to shoot the advert crashed. ‘That sent it way over budget,’ says Roger. ‘It was $250,000, which was a huge amount of money in the early 70s. So when Harvey got back to New York there was trouble.’

Coca-Cola received thousands of letters from people asking where they could buy the song.

But when the commercial aired on US television it was an instant hit. ‘Coca-Cola received thousands of letters from people asking where they could buy the song.’

In the meantime another band called The Hillside Singers recorded and released it and the track reached No.13 in the Billboard Hot 100. Fortunately The New Seekers happened to be in New York when the advert caught the public’s imagination, so Davis rushed them into the studio, reworked the lyrics to I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing and the resulting hit notched No.7 in the US and No.1 in the UK.

And the reason Greenaway dislikes the song? ‘The re-write left out the middle eight, so it’s only a verse and the bridge on the record: it’s not the finished song!’

These days, former PRS chairman Roger is Senior Vice President International for ASCAP and spends most of his time helping other composers earn money for their works.  He and Cook were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2009, performing on stage together at the ceremony in New York.

I’d Like To Buy The World A Coke is published by Universal/Dick James Music Ltd.

I'd Like To Buy The World A Coke has been one of the most popular songs in used in an advert but if you'd like to know the ten most performed songs in adverts read M's chart here.

Another famous song used in advertising is The Zombie's The Time of the Season. The song's writer Rod Argent tells the tale behind the track here.