William M. Backer, a steeplechase horse owner, a conservationist, and an advertising executive responsible for one of the best-known ads ever produced, died Friday, May 13, at Faquier Hospital in Warrenton, Va. He was 89.
Owner of Smitten Farm in The Plains, he was a member of The Jockey Club as well as a National Steeplechase Association member. His most recent steeplechase starter was Tuxedo Park, trained by Jonathan Sheppard, in 2013.
Bill Backer served in the U.S. Navy in World War II and graduated from Yale University in 1950. He entered the world of advertising and pioneered the genre known as “song form,” which eventually earned him a place in the Advertising Hall of Fame.
The most famous example was the 1971 ad for Coca-Cola, “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing,” which more recently concluded the popular television series on the world of Madison Avenue advertising, “Mad Men.” Backer said in an interview that he quit watching the series after the second episode.
The one-minute production, regarded as perhaps the most famous ad of all time, cost a then-record $250,000. The ad, from the Coca-Cola website, is here.
He formed his own ad agency, Backer & Spielvogel, in 1979 with Carl Spielvogel; the agency grew rapidly and subsequently was sold to Satchi & Satchi.
He led efforts to maintain the rural character of northern Virginia and served as president of the Piedmont Foundation, which raised funds for the work of the Piedmont Environmental Council. He helped to develop the strategy that led Walt Disney Corp. to abandon its plans to build a theme park in Haymarket, where Disney had purchased a large tract of land in the early 1990s.
Survivors include his wife, Ann.