Coca-Cola’s Big Game commercial – its 12th consecutive appearance on global advertising’s highest-profile stage – features neither celebrity cameos, nor blockbuster special effects. Instead, the 60-second spot titled “The Wonder of Us” leans on a centuries-old artform to again render the brand’s timeless message of inclusion and optimism.

An original poem – collectively read, line by line, by a diverse group of voices – guides viewers through a mosaic of scenes featuring people from all walks of life enjoying a variety of Trademark Coca-Cola beverages in a range of packages. “There’s a Coke for he, and she, and her, and me, and them,” the poem begins.

Becca Wadlinger, the Wieden+Kennedy (Portland) copywriter behind the poem, has a Ph.D. in poetry (her clients at Coke affectionately call her “Dr. Becca”). We caught up with her this week to learn more about the inspiration behind “The Wonder of Us”, which will air during the fourth quarter of Sunday’s game, and her professional path from poetry to the advertising world.

When your team received the creative brief from Coke, how did you decide to feature an original poem in the ad?

We wanted to do something that celebrated the optimistic spirit of Coca-Cola. Thinking back to the history of Coke’s inclusive advertising… from the “Boys on a Bench” print ad (1969), to “Hilltop” (1971), to “It’s Beautiful” (2014)… we wanted to work in that tradition, but to do something that would feel special, really bright and positive, and would again bring to life Coke’s long-held values of inclusiveness and optimism. For me, since I’m a writer on the Coke account, with a background in poetry, an original poem felt like way a good way to express what we wanted to say in a way that could both stand out and align with the brand’s core values.

Becca Wadlinger
Becca Wadlinger, who wrote the poem featured in Coke's 'The Wonder of Us' ad, has a Ph.D. in poetry.

Did your team create storyboards based on the poem, or did you have a rough sketch of the spot before sitting down to write?

The poem has always been the heart of the “The Wonder of Us” idea. My art director, Brad Trost, was working on the poem with me and helping with accompanying images. We couldn’t visualize the spot until the poem was finished. When we brought in the director, Alma Har’el, she also helped add the visuals. Even during the editing process, we didn’t look at the images for the longest time. We were focused on timing out the poem, getting the perfect reads, and ensuring the music was right. We approached it almost like a radio ad. The poem had to move you first.

In the ad, the poem is read by a collection of voices. Why?

There are around 10 voices reading the poem. Conceptually, the message of inclusion we wanted to convey felt more appropriate delivered by a group of people versus a single narrator. We didn’t want to put too much emphasis on any one voice, just like Coke is looking to share the voice of this and other advertising across the variants of its namesake brand.

How’d you get into advertising?

I actually didn’t go to advertising school. I got my MFA in poetry and later a Ph.D. Wieden found me from the poetry world. My first project here was in 2012, writing poetry for a holiday social media campaign for Diet Coke. And I’ve been here ever since, supporting the Coke account. I even worked on the brand’s Big Game ad in 2014.

So you didn’t plan to be a copywriter?

Not at all! I didn’t even consider it. I thought I’d be a professor. Not many agencies would hire a poet, but they did. Advertising is like creative problem solving, and I like collaborating with so many talented people and creating stuff.

I still have a poetry life outside of Wieden that’s very important to me. My poems have been published in journals and magazines, and my first collection, Terror/Terrible/Terrific, is forthcoming from Octopus Books in 2019. I also translated a book of Norwegian poetry, A Hundred Thousand Hours, by Gro Dahle. I do poetry readings and talks, and I keep in touch with a community of poets.

When did your passion for poetry start?

In college. My love for writing poetry came from my love of reading poetry. Reading poetry very easily leads to writing poetry. I liked to read poetry when I was younger, and in college I found poets I really admired. I went to Bucknell University in Pennsylvania, which has the only poetry center on the East Coast.

Wonder of Us Poem
An ad featuring the full text of the poem will run in major U.S. newspapers starting Sunday.

Is poetry a dying artform, or is it alive and well?

It’s alive and so well! There’s an entire community of people out in the world writing amazing poetry for today’s times. Contemporary poets I love include Mary Ruefle, Danez Smith, Ocean Vuong and Terrence Hayes…to name a few. 

How will it feel to see (and hear) your words come to life on the world’s biggest advertising stage?

I’m really proud of Coke for continuing to bring its longstanding voice of optimism and inclusion to new advertising.  And I’m proud of how beautifully crafted the entire project is. It’s a special message and done in a way that’s really beautiful and will hopefully stand out in the noisy advertising landscape of the Big Game.

NOTE: Wadlinger also wrote more than 50 mini poems for a Coca-Cola campaign on social media which will keep “The Wonder of Us” conversation going in the weeks ahead. Fans can “unlock” the poems by “liking” the ad on Twitter.