Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner called the famous 1971 "Hilltop" Coke ad, which closed out the beloved AMC series, "the best ad ever made," during a chat with author A.M. Homes at the New York Public Library, The New York Times reports. "That ad is so much of its time, so beautiful — I don't think it's as villainous as the snark of today thinks it is."
Juxtaposed with a final shot of Don Draper/Dick Whitman seemingly at peace on the California coast, the "Hilltop" TV spot proved to be an apt, if ambiguous Mad Men moment. Though Weiner didn't definitively say whether Draper returned to New York to create the commercial (which was actually the work of a McCann Erickson creative director named Bill Backer), he did say it was not intended to put a cynical twist on Don's moment of clarity.
"I'm not saying advertising's not corny, but I'm saying that the people who find that ad corny, they're probably experiencing a lot of life that way, and they're missing out on something," Weiner said (per The Hollywood Reporter). "Five years before that, black people and white people couldn't even be in an ad together! And the idea that someone in an enlightened state might have created something that's very pure — yeah, there's soda in there with a good feeling, but… it comes from a very good place."
Weiner also discussed the finale's other key component: Leonard, an everyman crippled by the isolation of modern life, whom Don encounters during a group therapy session at the Esalen-esque retreat in California. The showrunner said Leonard was "probably the most important role in the series," and he instructed his casting directors to find an unknown actor (Evan Arnold) who could really cry.
"I hope the audience would feel either that he was embracing a part of himself, or maybe them, and that they were heard," Weiner said of the climactic hug Don and Leonard share. "I don't want to put it into words more than that… I liked the idea where he'd come to this place, and it'd be about other people and a moment of recognition. I don't think I can put it into words, but I knew."
Despite the warm, fuzzy, communal feelings epitomized by both Leonard and the "Hilltop" Coke ad, Weiner said Mad Men's ending was supposed to also capture the final flicker of progressive idealism that permeated the Sixties — and subsequently the show itself — and seemed to be snuffed out with the 1969 election of Richard Nixon.
"This whole last season," Weiner said, "was the idea that the revolution failed in some way, and it’s time to deal with what you can control, which is yourself. This turning inward."