Thursday, June 2, 2016

Ad Man William "Bill" Backer R.I.P.

William "Bill" Backer, the advertising man who created Coca-Cola's legendary "Hilltop" commercial (which featured the song "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing (In Perfect Harmony)"), died on May 13 2016 at the age of 89.

Bill Backer was born on June 9 2016 in Charleston, South Carolina. He graduated from Episcopal High School in Alexandria, Virginia, after which he served two years the United States Navy. In 1950 he graduated from Yale with a bachelor's degree. He spent three years selling real estate and writing jingles before he joined McCann Erickson. He started his career there in the mail room. Bill Backer remained with McCann Erickson for a few years before moving on to Young and Rubicam. Among his early work were slogans for Oreo ("Little girls have pretty curls, but I like Oreo") and Beech Nut Gum ("I’m not talking while the flavor lasts").

Bill Backer later returned to McCann Erickson where his career took off. There he worked on the Coca-Cola account. He developed the slogans "Things go better with Coke"and "It's the real thing".  It was Mr. Backer who created the famous "Hilltop" ad for the soft drink, in which a multi-ethnic collection of young people stood atop a hill and sang "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing (In Perfect Harmony)". It is often counted among the greatest advertisements of all time. While at McCann Erickson, Bill Backer also worked on the Miller Beer account. He came up with the slogan "Miller Time". For Miller Lite he came up with the slogan "Everything you ever wanted in a beer, and less", as well as the famous "Tastes great"/"Less filling" campaign. For Campbell Soup he developed the slogan "Soup is good food" and for Lowenbrau "Here's to good friends, tonight is kind of special." He also worked on advertising campaigns for Wendy's and Hyundai.

At McCann Erickson, Bill Backer became creative director in 1972 and then vice chairman in 1978. In 1978 he founded his own agency Backer & Spielvogel with Carl Spielvogel. In 1987 it became Backer, Spielvogel & Bates Worldwide, Inc.

There can be no doubt that Bill Backer was one of the most legendary ad men of all time. If the "Hilltop" ad had been his only contribution to advertising he would still be remembered. As it is he created a number of campaigns and slogans that are remembered to this day. While Coca-Cola slogans have come and gone since the Sixties, "Things go better with Coke"and "It's the real thing" are familiar even to people who weren't born at the time. Bill Backer had a knack of tapping into people's needs and desires and building entire campaigns around them. Few ad men were ever as successful as Bill Backer was. It is doubtful very many more will be in the future.

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