Coca-Cola Taps Emerging Artists for 2012 Holiday Song

For the first time ever, Coca-Cola is featuring emerging artists on its holiday song. (L-R) Grayson Sanders, Lauriana Mae and Jonathan "Jono" O’Neal.

One day last summer, 25-year-old aspiring singer Jonathan O’Neal, known in the music world as Jono, had a life changing experience. He was working in the electronics department of a Denver big-box retailer when the first shipment of holiday CDs arrived.  In that shipment was the CD with his first studio-recorded song, “Something in the Air.” The song was created for the 2012 Coca-Cola holiday advertising campaign—and features Jono’s vocals.

The tune is on the album A Very Special Christmas 25th Anniversary, Bringing Joy to the World, and features the voices of Jono and two other emerging artists: Grayson Sanders, a classically trained composer and Music Dealers artist, as well as jazz-inspired vocalist and Atlantic recording artist Lauriana Mae.  Proceeds from the album, which includes songs by artists such as Dave Matthews and Martina McBride, benefit Special Olympics.

Thrilled to see his name alongside such major musical talent, Jono went racing through the store’s aisles sharing the news and soon he had the high-energy anthem playing loudly in the store’s demo room.

“It was such a beautiful thing,” he recalls.

Focusing on Loved Ones at the Holidays

“The goal of ‘Something in the Air’ was to create meaningful music that would touch people emotionally,” says Dan Kuypers, senior creative director at Coca-Cola’s music partner Music Dealers, who worked with Grayson Sanders to compose the original song.

“I started trying to recall stories from my life and write them out anecdotally, paying no attention to the rhymes or the rhythm of the song,” says Grayson, who fronts the indie pop band Snowmine. “I looked for a common theme, and what it came down to was that regardless of what culture you’re in or which religion you subscribe to, everyone can relate to being around loved ones during the holidays.”

Coca-Cola’s Holiday Music Traditions

Coke only recently began releasing an original song as part of its annual holiday advertising campaign. In 2010, the band Train recorded “Shake Up Christmas” as a key element of the Coca-Cola holiday campaign. The following year, as part of a massive global campaign, British-born singer Natasha Bedingfield recorded the same song in English, Spanish, French, Ukrainian, Swahili and Tagalog.

This year's song is the first to feature three emerging artists under the age of 30.

Coke’s holiday campaigns are part of a tradition that dates back to the 1930s, and music has been a part of them since the 1950s, says Phil Mooney, Coke’s vice president of Heritage Communications.

A 1958 black-and-white TV commercial features a talking Santa doll next to a tinsel-draped Christmas tree accompanied by the jingle, “Holiday time’s a good time for the good taste of Coke.” The same ditty plays in another 1958 ad, in which a family of four sleds down a snowy hill, stops at a store for beverages, and ends up in front of a roaring fireplace.

Sometimes a song takes on a life of its own. Following the popular 1971 ad “Hilltop,” in which a large multicultural group sings “I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke,” the Company launched a holiday campaign known as“Candles” using the same song. The ads, which ran from 1977 to 1982, featured singers holding candles and forming the shape of a Christmas tree. In 1980, Mickey Mouse and other Disney characters joined in the fun for a slightly different version.

According to Mooney, “The underlying message has been the same—that when family and friends come together during the holidays, it’s a time of great happiness for people and that the perfect drink to share in this happiness is Coca-Cola.”

Why Holiday Ad Campaigns Can Be So Powerful

The success of Christmas advertising often depends on finding a way to tap into that warm, fuzzy holiday feeling—without exploiting it, notes Ira Kalb, assistant professor of clinical marketing at the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business.

“Holidays are a great reason for companies to communicate with their customers,” Kalb notes, adding that musical traditions in particular have the power to immediately put people into a jolly frame of mind. “It’s a shortcut into the brain to associate your brand with Christmas music.”

And the advent of social media has helped strengthen that association.

A long-running Coca-Cola campaign featuring a caravan of trucks snaking their way through snowy landscapes with Santa Claus at the helm includes the song “Holidays are Coming,” a song that has struck a chord online. In 2007, a Florida family posted a YouTube video of their front-yard adorned with 42,000 LED Christmas lights twinkling and dancing to “Holidays are Coming.” The video has received more than 2.7 million views and the Facebook page titled “It’s Not Christmas till I Hear the Coca-Cola Song! (Holidays are Coming)” boasts nearly 20,000 followers.

This year, “Something in the Air” brings the holidays full-circle to the old-fashioned traditions of earlier Christmas campaigns. The song serves as the anthem behind Coke’s global TV ad, which features a giant pink-cheeked Santa Claus marionette puppet that comes to life to share in the joys of Christmas with residents of a big city.

The Los Angeles studio where Jono, Grayson and Lauriana Mae recorded “Something in the Air” was a long way from a snowy town, but the production team at Rock Mafia worked to create a Christmas scene filled with mistletoe, lights, a tree and gingerbread cookies to get the singers in the spirit.

If you ask Jono, they got it just right.

Last Christmas, the singer held down two jobs. This year he is a signed songwriter under Mulinjer LLC, working on a solo album and just released a new single with his band Therapoetic Soul.

“I’m in awe of how this all went down,” he marvels.