Quarantine special: Soft drink ads to lift your spirits

Many of us are feeling quarantine malaise in this moment. For me, a lively soda commercial from the ’60s and ’70s never fails to brighten my mood. It has nothing to do with the actual product; I realize that soda is unhealthy and big corporations are evil. There’s just something about the soda ads from this era—they’re so hopeful and celebratory. They show people having fun in ways that we can’t while we’re socially distancing—but at least we can enjoy their fun vicariously.

Here’s a collection of soft drink ads and jingles guaranteed to lift your spirits faster than fizzy lifting drinks buoyed Charlie and Grandpa Joe in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. They’re not necessarily the best or most classic—they’re just the ones that make me feel good. I hope they brighten your day too.

I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing (1971)

Possibly the most feel-good commercial of them all is Coca-Cola’s iconic “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing” ad. Reflecting the anti-war zeitgeist of the time, it shows an international group of young people standing on a hilltop in Italy, holding bottles of Coke and singing (lip-syncing, actually) an optimistic jingle about world harmony. The song was so popular, a non-Coke version was released and became a hit single. My little playmates and I sang this song while joining hands around the weeping willow tree in a neighbor’s backyard (true story). It’s sad that the Age of Aquarius didn’t quite turn out the way people hoped, but watching that ad with its innocent idealism still makes me all happy inside. So to all you millennials with your “OK, boomer” memes and tweets: Screw you!

The Pepsi Generation/You’ve Got a Lot to Live (1969)

The Pepsi Generation ad campaign also focuses on the young boomers, highlighting their zest for living. And look at this: Every single shot is set outdoors, whether it’s kids playing with animals or couples nuzzling. You can pet kittens and puppies or have sex with your partner indoors just as well, so don’t let that get you down while you’re stuck at home.

As a six-year-old, I took the lyrics “You’ve got a lot to live” literally as a promise that I, Michael, would have a long lifespan. I wouldn’t have to worry about dying for a long time. The TV said so. This thought was reassuring to a kid just beginning to grasp the concept of death.

Coke Adds Life (1976)

Another life-affirming commercial is this Bicentennial-themed spot from Coca-Cola. The celebration of America’s Bicentennial was inescapable in 1976. Fire hydrants were painted red, white, and blue. “Bicentennial Minutes” aired nightly on television. McDonald’s offered red, white, and blue shakes. So let’s time-travel together to the Fourth of July, 1976: It’s a warm, sunny day, we can all leave our homes, and we’re at a small-town Bicentennial parade, complete with Revolutionary War costumes, Uncle Sam on stilts, Paul Revere, Crispus Attucks, Betsy Ross, and a firehouse dalmatian. At the conclusion, fireworks spell out “Coke adds life!” in red, white, and blue. It never fails to give me a thrill.

Be a Pepper! (1977)

This series of Dr. Pepper commercials from the late ’70s and early ’80s features an appealing, vest-clad David Naughton proudly identifying himself as “a Pepper” and singing to an ever-growing crowd, “I’m a Pepper, he’s a Pepper, she’s a Pepper, we’re a Pepper, wouldn’t you like to be a Pepper too?” Talk about peer pressure. This inspired a 1980 Saturday Night Live sketch in which a teenage girl tries to recruit everyone around her to become Peppers, causing her parents to worry about the cult their daughter has joined. Naughton—that Pied Piper of Peppers—really sells these ads with his charm; and the fantasy of being embraced and accepted (even by a soda cult) taps into a deep human need to belong.

The time is right… for Pepsi Light! (1976)

This ad doesn’t promise peace and understanding, doesn’t celebrate life, and doesn’t tap into any universal experience. However, the picnic at the beach looks pleasant, and the jingle is catchy and punctuated with claps, just like the Friends theme. The lyric, “The time is right…” evokes a feeling that exciting, long-anticipated things are finally about to happen. In this case, the thing is a cola that’s neither regular Pepsi nor Diet Pepsi, but something in between. They took out half the calories, and “put a little lemony taste in” while they were at it. Also, note the spelling of “light”—not “lite.” This semi-diet cola is like the sun, giving us something, warm, precious, and life-sustaining. Sending you love and light! Pepsi Light, that is.

The Blizzard! (1967)

Not a commercial per se but a promotional song for Fresca, “The Blizzard Song” was recorded by folk singer Trini Lopez of “Lemon Tree” fame. Apparently the 45 RPM vinyl record was a freebie included in cases of Fresca. It doesn’t pretend to be about anything other than Fresca being “freezing,” and “chilly,” and “icy.” However, it does kind of pretend to be “La Bamba,” with almost the same arrangement as Lopez’s recording of the aforementioned Mexican folk song. The upbeat music and the sheer absurdity of this song make me smile, and that lands it a place on this list.

So there it is. I hope this has made your sheltering-in-place more joyful.

Acknowledgement: I was inspired to write this post after listening to a three-episode series about soda pop on the Smart Mouth podcast.

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