Remembering The Friends Diet Coke Super Bowl Ad Campaign

Of all the Coke Super Bowl commercials, the "Friends" Diet Coke Super Bowl ad campaign had quite a cultural impact. Picture the mid-90s, 1996 to be exact. Season 1 of "Friends" had already finished airing, and the pressure was on for the second season to keep riding the wave of success. One can argue that part of success is taking risks, and that's exactly what "Friends" Season 2 did with a Diet Coke Super Bowl ad campaign.

The campaign was very elaborate. It cost around $30 million, went on for weeks up until the Super Bowl, and involved prizes for viewers. Called "Who's gonna drink the Diet Coke?" it was crime-themed, using the set-up that someone stole Diet Coke from Monica and Rachel's apartment. As part of the ads, the characters get interrogated and even stand in a police lineup, and one of them drinks the soda.

For several weeks leading up to the Super Bowl, fans were instructed to buy specially packaged Diet Coke bottles and watch the commercials that aired during "Friends." If their bottle came with a game piece or cap displaying the name of the character who drank the soda, the viewer would win a prize. This culminated in a two-part "Friends" episode that followed the Super Bowl. During this episode, the last Diet Coke commercial aired, and whoever won would receive the grand prize: a trip to see a live taping of "Friends."

Diet Coke sales went up, but viewership went down

This campaign was more of a win for Diet Coke than for the sitcom. The Coca-Cola company had been eyeing "Friends" for potential collaboration not only because it was one of the biggest hits on TV, but because of the younger audience that "Friends" attracted. Consumers between 18 and 34 years old weren't as into Diet Coke as the company wanted. Interestingly, Coca-Cola left the ad campaign's creation up to the producer and creative team for "Friends."

Diet Coke sales began to rise, suggesting the ads worked. The two-part "Friends" episode, "The One After the Super Bowl," was full of celebrity guest stars and product placement and attracted a tremendous 52.9 million viewers since it aired in the coveted post-Super Bowl slot. However, only about half as many people tuned in for the season finale for Season 2 of "Friends." The soda promotion may have left a bad taste in some people's mouths. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, co-creator of "Friends," David Crane explained, "People worried the show had become too commercial." We know that everything turned out fine for "Friends," but this campaign was a valuable lesson in how success might negatively affect the show, too.