Wayback Wednesday: Coca-Cola’s Iconic 1979 “Hey Kid, Catch” Ad with Mean Joe Greene

by James Thompson

It’s Wayback Wednesday!

Every Wednesday AdForum's James Thompson features a seminal ad from the past that in some way revolutionized advertising by profoundly impacting our industry, our culture, or the way our society interacts with commerce.

Today we look at the year 1979. The same year that a nuclear reactor overheated at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania and Iranian militants seized the U.S. embassy in Tehran and held 52 American diplomats hostage for 444 days.

In advertising, 1979 was the year of the iconic Coca-Cola, Pittsburg Steeler Mean Joe Greene “Hey Kid, Catch” commercial that debuted on October 1, but most notably aired during Super Bowl XIV (a parallel with last week’s featured Wayback Wednesday ad that ran during Super Bowl XVIII) and forever changed the dynamic between NFL players and fans.

Though many NFL players were celebrities in 1979, neither the league nor the fans could imagine how football in America would evolve into the juggernaut marketing and cultural force it is today, with fantasy football becoming a billion dollar enterprise among men and women of all ages and the NFL’s 32 teams being collectively valuated at $63 billion – yes, with a “b.”

It is difficult to imagine that today’s NFL’s superstars – who are handled like one-man multinational corporations by agents, PR firms, and global media agencies – are actually regular human beings. But they are; that will never change. While making “Hey Kid, Catch” Mean Joe Greene – who had never acted before – explained he had to endure dozens of takes because after chugging an entire bottle of Coke for each scene, he kept uncontrollably burping during his remarkable line, “Hey, kid. Catch.”

See you next week for another installment of Wayback Wednesday! 

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