What if I asked which words you associate with Coca-Cola? What would you say?
Quality? Taste? Refreshing?
What about music?
While you may not realize it, music has been at the heart of how Coca-Cola has reached fans since our earliest days and Canadians have helped make that possible. Starting in the late 19th century, Coca-Cola used images of popular music hall and opera singers on promotional materials like trays and signs. During the golden age of radio Coca-Cola seized on the public’s love of jazz by producing a weekly radio program called The Coca-Cola Hour. Though the program’s host, network and even name changed, music was always an essential element of the show, playing the hits and classics of the day.
By the 1940s it was a Canadian by the name of Percy Faith that Coca-Cola called on to arrange music for The Pause That Refreshes on the Air. Faith – a native of Toronto – was already a well-known orchestra conductor on Canadian airwaves when he took over musical duties on Coca-Cola’s program. By the end of 1950, Faith’s show was being carried on 176 stations all over the United States (including two in Hawaii and six in Alaska) as well as 39 stations across Canada.
Following the Second World War, musical tastes began to change again. As the first Baby Boomers became teenagers, rock and roll became the music of choice and by the 1960s Coca-Cola was hard at work looking for new ways to reach this young generation. It was around this time that Coca-Cola legend Bill Backer – of Hilltop fame – came up with 'Things Go Better With Coke'. This inventive campaign saw famous artists of the day record their own take on the slogan, and perhaps no one sang it better than Thunder Bay’s own Bobby Curtola.
Already a teen idol in Canada and the United States, Curtola’s 1964 recording of Things Go Better with Coke was an instant hit. To keep up the momentum, Coca-Cola also released recordings from Canadian artists like David Clayton Thomas and the Shays, J.B. and the Playboys, and Jack London. In Quebec, Coca-Cola tapped Petula Clark, Cesar and the Romains, Les Baronets, and Les Cailloux to record French versions of the hit jingle.
Beyond recording jingles, Coca-Cola also worked with up-and-coming bands to produce promotional records that consumers could send away for. In 1968 fans of Coca-Cola could send in ten bottle cap liners plus a dollar and receive an album called A Wild Pair. A split album, A Wild Pair featured five songs from Ottawa’s The Staccatos (later Five Man Electric Band) and five songs from a little Winnipeg group called The Guess Who! Though the album wasn’t eligible, it was so popular when available that it actually sold enough copies to have been certified as a gold record in Canada.
Today Coca-Cola’s legacy of engaging with Canadians through music can best be seen through programs like ‘Play a Coke’. With 189 specially curated Spotify playlists tied to special summer moments – include some unique Canada 150 playlists – Canadians can now build the soundtrack of their summer with the Coca-Cola drinks they already love.
From music hall hits of the 19th century to today’s top 40, Coca-Cola has long known that things go better with Coca-Cola and music. Maybe one reason the two complement each other so well is that they both bring people from all walks of life together through shared experience and special moments in a way few other things can. No matter why it works, it’s exciting to see this relationship between Coca-Cola and music enduring to this day and that Canadian artists and innovators are still making it possible.