Don Draper, the New York ad man forged by a stolen identity, turned out to be the real thing after all.
The series finale of AMC Networks Inc.’s “Mad Men” implied, though didn’t quite say, that the hard-drinking skirt-chaser who beguiled U.S. television viewers for seven seasons was the genius behind one of the most iconic TV advertisements of the 1970s: Coca-Cola Co.’s “I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke.”
The finale’s big reveal blended fact with fiction, in keeping with the show’s long tradition of mixing television characters with real-life companies and ad campaigns of the 1960s and early ’70s. In Sunday night’s program, Draper -- after fleeing an important meeting in New York and heading west on a drunken tear -- winds up at a California ashram perched high above the Pacific Ocean.
After an emotional breakthrough, Draper draws inspiration from a cliff-top yoga session. He smiles, and the program ends with the 1971 commercial, a perfect blend of hippie culture and marketing savvy that somehow made it seem a bottle of soda could change the world.
The free spirits Draper meets in the ashram are represented in the spot, with young people of many races singing on a sunny hilltop about the soft drink as “the real thing.”
Coca-Cola responded to the episode with a post on Twitter: “A bright idea indeed, Don. Thanks for thinking of us.” The company included a restored version of the 1971 ad with its tweet.
The beverage company said it had “limited awareness” about the role of the commercial, known as “Hilltop.”
“Mad Men is one of the most popular TV shows of all time, and Hilltop is an iconic piece of Coca-Cola history,” the Atlanta-based company said in a statement. “The finale gave everyone inside and outside the company -- some for the first time -- a chance to experience the magic of Hilltop within the context of its creation and the times.”
According to a person familiar with the situation, Coca-Cola didn’t pay for the commercial to be used in “Mad Men,” though it did grant the show permission.
The actual Coke commercial was made by McCann Erickson, the advertising firm that Draper is playing hooky from in the final episodes of the show. The spot’s creator in real life was Bill Backer, a McCann Erickson executive, according to the company’s Web page.
AMC, which staged a lavish event to initiate the show’s final run, hosted a party Sunday night in downtown Los Angeles to celebrate the finale.
It began with a live reading of a script from the first season, directed by “Juno” filmmaker Jason Reitman.
“Mad Men” creator Matthew Weiner then welcomed cast members to the stage and thanked all of the show’s fans, cast and crew as he introduced the final episode. He warned any detractors to avoid him at the after party.
“Leave me alone if you don’t like it,” Weiner said.
The ending drew a standing ovation. The crowd included executives from AMC, Lions Gate Entertainment Corp., which produced the show, and streaming services Netflix Inc. and Hulu LLC.