Skip to main content

A still from Coca-Cola's 1971 "Hilltop" ad, which featured the signature "I'd like to buy the world a Coke" chorus.

At the Google Inc. offices in New York, so pervasive is the youth culture that it is not unheard of to see an employee riding a scooter. But a septuagenarian ad man gliding tentatively by on one foot looks slightly out of place.

Madison Avenue veteran Harvey Gabor tried out more than the scooter during his visits to Google last year, however. The art director behind Coca-Cola Co. 's iconic 1971 " Hilltop " commercial – featuring a chorus singing about buying the world a Coke – was one of four ad industry legends pulled out of retirement by the Web giant for an experiment in reimagining old advertisements with new technology.

Project Re:brief was unveiled last month with two case studies on well-known brands; another two launch on Thursday, and a documentary about the project will follow this year.

The project isn't simply an attempt to tap into the Mad Men-fuelled nostalgia for America's advertising past. It's also an ad campaign for Google itself.

"We started thinking, how do we show what's actually possible when you combine great creative ideas with technology?" said Aman Govil, Google's product marketing manager. "Until today, we've been doing digital advertising. What we're trying to do is, do a subtle mind shift from digital advertising to advertising for the digital age."

To showcase various ad products that Google offers to marketers, the Coke ad was reborn Reborn with a campaign conceived by Mr. Gabor and a Google team. The project involved installing digital software in vending machines around the world, allowing customers to literally "buy the world a Coke."

Machines were set up in public spaces for a day in New York, Austin, Buenos Aires and Cape Town, South Africa, with touch screens that allowed users to give a can to someone in another country, with a video message for the recipient. The project used display platforms such as DoubleClick Studio, and other Google technologies such as Google Translate to translate the senders' messages, and YouTube to record them.

"It's been quite fun because we've been able to engage directly with some of [Google's]technologists, which is quite different from how these [advertising]projects tend to come about," said Jackie Jantos, Coca-Cola's global creative director.

Google would not appear to need to market itself as an advertising platform, given that it already owns a whopping 44 per cent share of global Internet ad spending, according to ZenithOptimedia.

But some observers predict the growth in spending on direct-response advertising, such as search ads, will be outpaced by the growth of richer ad formats. So it makes sense for Google to showcase the variety of digital tools it offers to advertisers.

Volvo North America Corp., for example, works extensively with Google as an advertiser. But being involved in the Re:brief project expanded the car company's view. "Internally, we're discussing, 'Okay we have access to these Google assets so now, okay how do we use them?' " said Geno Effler, vice-president of public affairs for Volvo.

Google reached back to the Don Draper era, working with another ad-industry veteran, art director Amil Gargano, to reimagine his 1962 " Drive it like you hate it " ad for Volvo.

"Technology has left me pretty much in the past – largely because I tend to ignore it," Mr. Gargano said. Nonetheless, he helped create a new campaign, using Google maps and GPS technology, among other digital tools.

The resulting work reinforces the original image of the brand's durability by tracking Volvo enthusiast Irv Gordon's quest to reach three million miles on his 1966 model, in real time. The short film also chronicles the shift in ad technologies over the years and the impact that has had on the industry.

Mr. Gargano's team at Google built display ads that work like interactive road guides, highlighting some of Mr. Gordon's favourite driving spots across the United States. The film also promotes Google's new social network, Google+, which has been struggling to build relevance.

Two other Re:brief ads, from Avis car rentals and Alka-Selzer, were released Thursday. Along with the exposure the four brands get from being part of the Google films, some are examining whether they might expand the pilot projects into their own campaigns. Though they are no longer in public spaces, Google is continuing to test the technology on Coke's machines. Ms. Jantos even communicated with the New York office by "sending" them a can.

Google's real goal, however, was to showcase the technology and get agencies thinking about integrating it from the first phases of the creative process, Mr. Govil said. "These are experimental ideas ... think of them as [auto show]concept cars or runway show dresses."

Report an error

Editorial code of conduct

Tickers mentioned in this story