ITV 50 Years of Fame: Private view - Coca-Cola

Coca-Cola is an extremely interesting advertiser to look at over the past 50 years of commercials as, unusually, the product itself hasn't really changed during that time.

This consistency means that the key variable across the years has been the advertising and marketing; the context in which Coke has been placed over time.

And context is important in another way here. Media context is usually about placing an ad in the right environment, whether it be the "where" or the "when". In this instance, I guess one also needs to view each of the ads in the context of the social norms and values of the time that they were broadcast too.

The first ad, 1956's "ballroom dancing", shows dance champions Alf and Julia getting a "quick, light lift" from Coca-Cola because it's "refreshingly different" (1). Viewed in the context of its day, I'm sure this might have been an engaging commercial. Perhaps one of the six people left in the advertising industry who're aged over 55 could get in touch and let me know what it was like first-hand at the time. Forgivably, though, in 2005, it has little to offer.

Things go better when I look at the second ad (1963's "things go better with Coke - diving"), which shows clean-cut "young people" bowling, diving (really very well) and doing sporty things in a wholesome kind of way (2). They've all got the kind of teeth that my dentist keeps trying to sell me, and it's clear that, in this ad, Coke is offering both physiological and social refreshment.

1971's offering ("hilltop") is a more ideological and global affair (4).

In the Vietnam era, its message was in tune with the sense of purpose and optimism that the younger generation was looking for. Everyone knows and loves this ad. It's Coke's magnum opus and I suspect that BA's 1989 commercial, "face", may not have existed if it hadn't been for those teenagers on that hill.

We fast-forward 15 years to 1996's commercial ("eat sleep drink"), which kicked off in the run-up to the UK-hosted Euro 96 (5). Although, at first glance, it appears to be aimed at a tighter, football-focused audience, if anything its appeal is broader than "hilltop". As well as being about the union of nations, it's also all about a shared passion across generations of people. Of all of the ads here, it sets itself apart with its intentionally grainy images and edgy editing. And although it's actually ten years old, it still feels very "now", which contrasts with 2004's "I wish", which feels vintage in a current setting (3).

In fact, the two ads couldn't be more different. "I wish" is more personal, charming and nostalgic. And although it's a wee bit saccharine for some tastes, this is still a lovely piece, with beautiful casting of the curvy girl whose figure, one could argue, actually resembles a bottle of Coke.

It's a warm ad, which must have performed well, as the final commercial on the reel (2005's "bring me sunshine") is, depending on one's point of view, either the previous ad remade with a lighter touch, or a different execution of a highly campaign-able idea (6).

Here, we have an ordinary-looking bloke going out on what appears to be his day job of ambushing initially cynical members of the public with some unexpected love, refreshment and humanity. I like this ad. It felt the most authentic of the bunch, and reminded me that Coke really still is The Real Thing.

1. COCA-COLA Title: Ballroom dancing Agency: Erwin-Wasey Year: 1956 2. COCA-COLA Title: Things go better with Coke - diving Agency: Erwin-Wasey Year: 1963 3. COCA-COLA Title: I wish Agency: Mother Year: 2004 4. COCA-COLA Title: Hilltop Agency: McCann-Erickson Year: 1971 5. COCA-COLA Title: Eat sleep drink Agency: Wieden & Kennedy Year: 1996 6. COCA-COLA Title: Bring me sunshine Agency: Mother Year: 2005