40 years ago, Coke made their legendary “Hilltop” commercial, featuring a chorus of young people singing “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing (In Perfect Harmony).”  You can watch it here:

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And 40 years later, Coke made this commercial, titled “Chorus,” featuring another chorus of young people, this time singing a small section of the Oasis song, “Whatever.” It’s another brilliant ad, that’s startingly different from “Hilltop” despite the superficial similarities. Check it out:

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So what are these startling differences?

There Are 3 Diffences in Content

1) Ignoring vs. Admiting the Gritty Reality/Downside

“Hilltop” is sort of a fantasy world of “appletrees and honey bees / and snow white turtle doves,” with not a cloud in site or so much as an evil or greedy thought to be found.

The “Chorus” ad on the other hand, continuously acknowledges the existence of tanks, greed, corruption, weapon systems, defensive and xenophobic walls, etc.  And yet, the optimism of the ad is strengthened rather than harmed for the acknowledgement. More on this later!

2) Sentimentality vs. Data

The “Hilltop” ad is all about the emotional moment, with no text on the screen or factual anything to get in the way. They believe in world piece and are symbolically representing it by singing in unison within their multicultural youth chorus. It’s a sentimental piece purely in step with the zeitgeist of 1971.

The “Chorus” ad has an overall positive sentiment — there are reasons to believe in a better world — but the text on the screen provides those very reasons for believing. Reasons which take the form of hard math and statistics: for every X bad things, there are 10x good things.”

3) Wishes vs. Action

The “Hilltop” ad literally sings of what these young people “would like” to do — “I’d like to build the world a home and furnish it with love” — regardless of how difficult or just plain impossible the feat or of how little these people are actually doing to make this candy-coated sentiment a reality.

In contrast, when the “Chorus” ad champions the reasons to believe in a better world, they consist of actions that people are taking: making teddy bears, donating blood, baking a cake, having a baby. Forget what you’d like to do, tell me what you’ve done.

So What Does Coke Know That You Don’t?

Whether Coke consciously understands this or whether they’re just able to hire talented artists who grok it subconsciously, our culture radically changes it’s overall worldview every 40 years.  The spirit of the times changes on a profound level, and if you’re left out of step with those times, you and your message will get dismissed and ignored, if not riducled outright.

So what are these 40 year cycles I’m talking about?

I learned about them from my partner Roy H. Williams, and to understand them, you first need to re-frame the way you think about a “generation.”

We typically think of a generation as a set of birth cohorts: people born within 5-10 years of each other. But for this model, it helps to think of a generation as a general world outlook that kids develop and then upsell to their parents.  And there are really only two templates for this outlook:

  1. Idealist
  2. Civic

So every 40 years we swap from an Idealist Generational outlook to a Civic Generational outlook.  1963 represented a swap from  Civic to Idealist, and 2003 represented the shift back from Idealist to Civic.  And from that you might have a pretty good idea of what the two generational outlooks are like, but let’s expand on that a bit…

Idealist Generations

Idealist generational outlooks create spiritual awakenings. And sure enough, we’ve had a “Great Awakening” in this country every 80 years or so, pretty much like clockwork, starting from the first Great Awakening in 1720 and continuing onto the “Fourth Great Awakening” in the early 1960s.

Idealists, or what Roy terms “Me Generations” prrimarily engage the culture through:

  1. A Beautiful Dream of Freedom from Restraint
  2. A Hunger for Self Expression
  3. A Search for Individuality

That sort of sounds like the 60s and 70s, doesn’t it?  Of course, take these values too far and you get the phony posing, conspicuous consumption, and alienation of the 80s. Reacting to exactly that excess, you get a gradually rising Civic Generational outlook, first expressed by Gen-Xers, and brought into the mainstream by Millenials…

Civic Generations

Civic Generations are generally known for coming together in the face of a crisis, usually through military action. Think “The Greatest Generation” in WWII. And, yes, you can take that same basic 80 year cycle and track major wars by that same cycle, Revolutionary, Civil, and WWII.

As opposed to an Idealist generation, the Civic outlook includes:

  1. A Beautiful Dream of Working Together for the Common Good
  2. A Hunger for Acceptance as a Member of a Team
  3. A Search for Significance

If the Boomers of the sixties rejected conformity, the Gen-Xers and Millenials of the aughts rejected pretense — they wanted the truth, even if it was ugly. The didn’t want to “sell out,” but sought to do something “real” that “mattered.”

This is how “Being cool” become “Keeping it Real.”  And why the preternaturally cool, living large, and totally in charge James Bond  became the damaged and flawed Jason Bourne, dealing with a seriously messed up situation that’s bigger than him and that he didn’t create, but that he’s forced to solve anyway.

Idealist = “Hilltop” and Civic = “Chorus”

So ultimately, what Coke knows that you don’t is how to stay in-step with the spirit of the age in order to ensure your marketing message is as effective as possible.

So where can you learn more about Idealist and Civic generations, and specifically what to expect and how to succeed as this current Civic generation rises to a peak?  Fortunately, Roy H. William’s new book, Pendulum, explains exactly that. It’s an eye-opening fascinating read, from an intellectual standpoint, and also one of the more practical books you’ll buy this year.

Now, while you certainly can go buy the book from Amazon, you can also get that same hardover book for the discounted rate of $7 over at PendulumInAction while also getting some extra “immediately actionable” goodies thrown in as a bonus.  The extra goodies were created by the co-author of the book, Michael Drew, and they include some great stuff.

P.S. As a sort of guarantee, if you buy it on my recommendation (and for the record, I’ve purposely chosen NOT to get any kind of affiliate payment for this) and you don’t end up finding the book useful and important, let me know and I’ll paypal you a refund.

P.P.S. In case you didn’t catch my mention of it earlier, and in the interest of full disclosure, I am a business partner with Roy Williams and a friend of Michael Drew’s. 


  1. JC Whitted on 10.19.2012

    Thanks for your blog. I’ve said it before, nine times out of ten I read something in your blog that helps me that very day. This one is no exception. Best, JC

  2. Jeff on 10.19.2012

    Thanks, JC. That means a lot to me; it’s one of the more important reasong I write the kind of posts that I do.

    – Jeff

  3. Nancy Nadolski on 10.21.2012

    And will you be a maestro at Wizard Academy this next year?

  4. Martin Sayers on 10.22.2012

    http://Really interesting and thought provoking – thanks Jeff

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