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Bill Backer, The Real Don Draper From 'Mad Men,' Dies

| by John Freund
Famous Coke adFamous Coke ad

Bill Backer, the advertising genius who created the now iconic "I'd like to buy the world a Coke" ad for Coca-Cola and served as the inspiration for the Don Draper character on "Mad Men," has reportedly died.  

Backer helped create numerous ad campaigns for the likes of Miller Lite, Oreo, Xerox and Campbell's Soup, but his most famous work was the Coca-Cola ad, which was written in 1971 and cost $250,000 to create, the Daily Mail reports.

It was the most expensive commercial in history at the time of its release, and was so popular that the band The New Seekers adapted the lyrics to create their own hit, "I'd like to teach the world to sing (in perfect harmony)."

The ad was played in the final episode of "Mad Men" as a tribute to Backer. In the episode, Draper - played by Jon Hamm - moves into a commune, and in the final scene he sits and meditates with a wry smile on his face. The scene then segues into the famous Coke ad, leaving audiences to speculate on Draper's future.

The Draper character is allegedly a composite character: an amalgam of two real life characters. Those two individuals are said to be Backer, and fellow legendary adman Draper Daniels, who created the Marlboro Man image. Don Draper's hard drinking and womanizing is allegedly based more on Daniels' behavior than on Backer's.  

Backer worked at New York ad agency McCann Erickson before going on to co-found his own agency, Backer & Spielvogel.  

Prior to his death, Backer told Newsweek how he had come up with the idea for the Coke ad while he was stranded at Shannon airport in Ireland.

"You had all types of people thrown together, and they sat with coffee or tea or Coca-Cola," he said, according to the Daily Mail. "Coca-Cola always prided itself on being the great social catalyst of the world." 

"Right there, I wrote it on an envelope," he added. " ... 'Id like to buy the world a Coke and keep it company.' Like a lot of the best commercials, it was written while watching the product perform."  

The advertisement was considered so groundbreaking that it was selected by the National Museum of American History for an exhibition about American Enterprise in 2015. 

Historian Kathleen Franz explained to Smithsonian.com why the ad was so vital to American culture.

"For Coke, it was really a turning point in their advertising, a shift from their long-running tagline, 'Things Go Better With Coke,' and it becomes a turning point in the advertising world at large," she said.  

Backer died on May 13 at a hospital in Warrenton, Virginia. He was 89 years old. 

Sources: Daily Mail, Smithsonian / Photo Credit: The Coca-Cola Company via Daily Mail, T.J. Kirkpatrick for The New York Times

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