If you enjoyed my Paceville in the ’80s and my ’80s cartoons posts, this one’s for you. During my childhood you knew it was christmas time and that the holidays were close when every single television show was punctuated by the sounds of Vorrei Cantare Nsieme a Voi… I was one of those weird kids who didn’t really love coca-cola but even so, the company’s christmas commercial – the one that ran through the ’80s and early ’90s – was guaranteed to bring an immediate smile of anticipation to my face. There were no thoughts of zapping while it was on. I, and most of my friends and family, knew all the lyrics and sang along. Granted, entertainment options were rather lacking back then but it just goes to show the power of a good commercial.
The commercial played on audiences’ imagination so strongly that it was probably one of the few TV spots that survived for well over a decade. Apparently it was aired for the first time in the early ’70s, although the Italian version that we all grew to love came into being a while later, in 1980. I remember it still being used on the Rai channels and on Italian 1 until the early ’90s, I believe.
The song meant a lot of different things to different people, all of them good. It meant good cheer, it meant gift-giving, it meant that warm fuzzy feeling that christmas brought with it in less cynical times, it meant good food, it meant spending days playing and watching television with the cousins as the whole family got together… It worked, probably because it was created with the wholesome, mostly conservative climate that characterized that particular period in mind. It certainly would not have worked with today’s more demanding, more worldly audiences. Today, it probably would not even last one season and the marketing exec who dares propose such a simplistic idea would be laughed out of the board room.
It should be said that although the final product was relatively simplistic, the actual putting it together was not, particularly in those days when the advertising budget for one campaign was hardly likely to run into a cast of hundreds. I have a hunch that this might possibly have been the first time that a single commercial included a specifically commissioned song for radio but I haven’t been able to confirm this: if any of you remember differently please do share! The pop group New Seekers, which was already successful in its own right, was the one chosen to bring the words to life.
On the television promo which was shot later – and which features the iconic Christmas Tree made of some 200 actors – the actual singing is carried out by professional extras with the actors lip-syncing on camera. When you remember that the whole thing was shot in the early ’70s, this was quite the advertising coup of the time.
The commercial probably worked and is remembered by everyone with such fondness because it appealed to our better nature. The tactic was a success also because back then we all wanted to live up to the goodness of Christmas. And because we were a lot more gullible about the noble intentions behind advertising. If you actually spare a couple of thoughts to the sentiments behind the song, a snigger or three is likely to escape your lips. I mean… Drinking coke can help save the world?? WTF mate!
Whatever the reason behind the commercial’s success, the budget that was allocated for the campaign was certainly recouped. Radio DJs in the UK were weirded out when requests from the public poured in to play what was essentially a jingle. When Coca-cola decided to record it as a stand-alone single, the song made it straight to the number one spot of the Hit Parade in less than two weeks. In under a year, the single sold over one million copies.
The total budget in the end exceeded the $250,000 mark, a figure that was unheard of back then. The song ended up being translated in various languages, with the sheet music also sold commercially and breaking sales records. Even allowing for the fact that the first $80,000 in royalties were donated to UNICEF, the profits must have been substantial.
Will this years’ offering (below) become as iconic or tug at our heart strings in the same way in 20 year’s time? As popular as Ms Bedingfield is, I highly doubt that.