Discover more from Why is this interesting?
The Mac Tonight Edition
On branding, memory, and catchiness
Colin here. We’ve had a marketing-heavy week at WITI, and as a lighter edition, I wanted to talk about a piece of 80’s marketing that has firmly lodged itself into my brain. In an effort to drive more evening diners in Southern California markets (initially), Mcdonald's came out with a now-iconic commercial featuring a moon man, playing a song to the tune of Mack the Knife. It smoothly encouraged customers to follow the golden lights after the strike of half past six, and it was so successful that it expanded to other US markets. The ad didn’t only perform, but it also stands as a piece of pop culture history. Much like the cereal ads that were burnt into our minds as children, this is a shared cultural memory for kids that grew up in the 80s.
I’m not sure what was more memorable, the outlandish moon character wearing shades or the catchiness of the tune. But it has stood the test of time, which is odd, given the dark subject matter of the original music.
Nudge, get customer insights with ease. Try Nudge
Do you want to improve your life by tapping into behavioral science insights? Listen to the award-winning Behavioral Grooves podcast today! Listen to Behavioral Grooves
Another interesting newsletter: Making the case for good content, clear writing and the creative process. Subscribe to the Hand & Eye. Subscribe to Hand & Eye
A publication exploring the most interesting and innovative consumer businesses, products, and trends Subscribe to New Consumer
Why is this interesting?
The backstory of the ad is astounding. According to the Times back in 1987, an ad exec couldn’t get the original tune out of his head. And so began history.
For hours at a stretch, Mr. Ball, president of Davis, Johnson, Mogul & Colombatto Inc., a small Los Angeles advertising agency, and his creative director, Peter Coutroulis, listened to different renditions - by Mr. Darin, Frank Sinatra, Louis Armstrong, even Liberace. They needed new lyrics and a fresh arrangement, but they were sure that an ad campaign using the tune could give their client an edge in the escalating fast-food wars.
From this obsession grew ''Mac Tonight'': a surreal crooner dressed in black and wearing 1950's dark glasses on a head that is a huge crescent moon. As he sits at a white baby-grand piano, appearing to float high above city lights, the familiar golden arches emerge in the distance. To the tune of ''Mack the Knife,'' he belts out: ''Dinner!/At McDonald's/It's Mac tonight.''
A lot of thought also went into the character construction, with overt references to Max Headroom, “[They] decided to give the moon head a real man's body. The 1950's specs were added 'to make him hip, to make him cool.”
The ad was a departure from a lot of the advertising that Mcdonald's did before it, with colorful characters and happy people eating burgers. This advertising salvo was launched in the ongoing “burger wars” pitting the likes of Burger King and Wendy’s all fighting for a share of consumer wallets in the high flying 80s. The campaign helped McDonald's garner the highest ''top-of-mind awareness'' of any advertiser.
Noah talked about “mental availability” in a lot of his earlier writing this week on brand positioning. I’d say an ad (and song) that still lodges itself in my head after all these years did a pretty good job in achieving this. (CJN)
McRib Article of the Day:
In case you haven’t heard, the iconic rib-shaped pork sandwich from McDonald’s is back for something they’re calling a farewell tour, which may or may not mean it’s not coming back. All of which makes this a perfect moment to read or re-read or re-re-re-re-re-read Willy Staley’s iconic Awl piece on the sandwich and it’s relationship with pork prices, “A Conspiracy of Hogs: The McRib as Arbitrage.” I’m in the “re-re-re-read” camp and continue to be blown away by what a fun and interesting and very strange piece of writing it is. Where else can you find stuff like:
The McRib was introduced in 1982–1981 according to some sources — and was created by McDonald’s former executive chef Rene Arend, the same man who invented the Chicken McNugget. Reconstituted, vaguely anatomically-shaped meat was something of a specialty for Arend, it seems. And though the sandwich is made of pork shoulder and/or reconstituted pork offal slurry, it is pressed into patties that only sort of resemble a seven-year-old’s rendering of what he had at Tony Roma’s with his granny last weekend.
If that doesn’t make you hungry for a McRib, I don’t know what will. I am happy to report that I’m getting one Friday with two first-timers. Can’t miss out. (NRB)
Thanks for reading,
Noah (NRB) & Colin (CJN)
Why is this interesting? is a daily email from Noah Brier & Colin Nagy (and friends!) about interesting things. If you’ve enjoyed this edition, please consider forwarding it to a friend. If you’re reading it for the first time, consider subscribing (it’s free!).