One of the first e-mails I received that morning included a link to an obituary for Bill Backer. I felt a growing sadness for his passing as I read the story. I felt as if I’d forever lost one of my final, personal links to a golden era of Coca-Cola advertising; however, I’m incredibly grateful for all that Mr. Backer (I never could get myself to call him “Bill”) was gracious enough to teach me over the years.
I first met Backer and Billy Davis, who was the music director for McCann, while I was working on a piece exploring the history of Coke’s iconic 1971 “Hilltop” ad for the Library of Congress, which we were in the process of donating all our advertising to. By the end of my conversation with the two legends, I felt as if I’d earned a Master’s degree in advertising. They not only shared how the finished ads were produced, but also the “why” and the strategy behind them. Along with all this wisdom and experience often came many fascinating and hilarious behind-the-scenes stories. My copy of Backer’s book The Care and Feeding of Ideas is completely worn out.
Though I already knew the punchline from Backer’s book, to hear him tell the story in the soft, Southern drawl he never lost was priceless.
The advertising industry lost one of its giants. The Coca-Cola Company lost one of its advertising leaders. And I feel like I’ve lost a friend and mentor.Ted Ryan is director of heritage communications at The Coca-Cola Company.