Polar Bears: Advertising Case History
1993, The Coca-Cola Company made a dramatic shift in its advertising
by introducing the "Always Coca-Cola" campaign. The campaign
by Creative Artists Agency and later Edge Creative was diverse in
nature, with an initial run of 27 commercials designed to appeal
to specific audiences. The ads ran around the world and included
a variety of innovative technical approaches, such as computer animation.
One such commercial, "Northern Lights," introduced what
would become one of the most popular symbols of Coca-Cola advertising,
the animated polar bear.
When asked to develop an innovative commercial for Coca- Cola,
creator Ken Stewart thought about drinking Coke at the movies. As
a puppy, Mr. Stewart's Labrador Retriever had resembled a polar
bear. Mr. Stewart saw his dog, thought about polar bears and how
they would go to the movies, and the idea for "Northern Lights"
In the commercial, the polar bears watch the aurora borealis (the
"movie") and drink from bottles of Coca-Cola.
Stewart enlisted the help of animation company Rhythm & Hues
to animate the ads. Using "space-age" computers and state-of-the-art
graphic programs, each ad took some 12 weeks to produce from beginning
to end. A lengthy, complex process is required to bring the furry,
always thirsty Arctic creatures to life.
As with all television commercials, the undertaking began with
storyboards. With each commercial encompassing only 30 seconds,
the animation mirrors scenes taken from previously created storyboards
illustrated by Eugene Yelchin, working with Mr. Stewart and CAA.
In this way, each second of the action is accounted for.
Once the storyboards were completed, Mr. Stewart and Rhythm &
Hues created pencil sketches of the polar bears, defining how the
bears would appear in each scene.
The sketches then were refined to add detail and background. Next,
Mr. Stewart and the animators studied films and photos of actual
polar bears to get a better idea of how bears move their heads,
bodies and limbs, so they could incorporate these movements into
To get the bear into the computer, Mr. Stewart and Rhythm &
Hues employed a sculptor to create a three-dimensional representation
of the bear's head in clay. The model then was transferred into
three-dimensional images and stored in advanced computer graphics
software. The images were constructed by creating a grid of vertical
and horizontal lines on the bear model. An animator, using a stylus
connected to a computer, actually plotted the points along the body
of the model until a schematic of the bear appeared on the computer
screen. Once the image was refined and loaded into memory, the bear
could be "moved," allowing it to walk, run, ski, luge
or ice skate.
"Movement" for the bears was created as animators plotted
the bear's course on the computer. In addition to manipulating the
bear's torso, the head and the limbs had to be moved separately
since the computer-generated-bear was not attached in one piece
like a real bear. During this step, the fine motor movements also
Additional elements that were not computer-generated - such as
a Coca-Cola bottle - were scanned and stored in the computer and
were added at this point.
Once the basic movements were completed, the rest of the picture
was refined. Fur was added, eyes were completed, background was
"painted in" and the lighting details - intricate lighting
complete with reflection and shadows - were fine tuned.
While the animation was in production, Mr. Stewart also worked
with Glenn Rueger at Outside Music to compose original music, and
created sound effects with Weddington Productions. To maintain the
magical and ethereal quality of the world of the bears, Mr. Stewart
kept the music to a minimum. He used the synthesized music as a
source of punctuation only, and kept the bears dialogue-free, except
for the notable "oohs," "ahs" and grunts, which
were created by Mr. Stewart on a sound stage using his own voice,
which then was altered through a computer to make him sound like
the bears. The music and "dialogue," which were minimal
by design, required months of work.
"That's really what we were trying to do - create a character
that's innocent, fun and reflects the best attributes we like to
call 'human'," said Mr. Stewart. "The bears are cute,
mischievous, playful and filled with fun."
Once the final elements - music, sound effects and animation --
were finished, Mr. Stewart brought them together during the final
edit and the magic of the bears was born.
There have been many polar bear spots since the 1993 debut, including
two ads for the 1994 Olympic Games in which the bear slid down a
luge and soared off a ski jump. Bear cubs also were introduced in
a holiday ad in which the bear family selects its Christmas tree.