Mac Tonight is a fictional character who appeared in television commercials for McDonalds restaurants in the 1980s, known for his crescent moon head, wearing sunglasses, and playing a piano. The campaign used the music of "Mack the Knife", composed by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill, in the style made famous by crooner Bobby Darin.
Originally conceived as a promotion to increase dinner sales by Southern California licensees, Mac Tonight's popularity led McDonalds to take it nationwide in 1987. McDonald's ceased airing the commercials after settling a lawsuit brought by Darin's estate, although the character has had a continued presence in limited overseas markets in years following.
The campaign was created locally for California McDonald's franchisees by Los Angeles firm Davis, Johnson, Mogul & Colombatto. Intended to increase the after-4pm dinner business, the advertisers were inspired by the song "Mack the Knife", made famous in the United States by Bobby Darin in 1959, and listened to different versions of it before deciding to have an original version with new lyrics. After deciding not to feature real people or celebrities, the designers settled on a crooner moon on a man's body, with 1950s-sunglasses; the song and style were playing to a high population of baby boomers and a recent revival of 1950s-style music. The character, who plays a piano on a floating cloud, was intended to garner a "cult-like" following, like Max Headroom. Director Peter Coutroulis, who won a Clio Award for a previous campaign for Borax, pitched several spots which did not air, including a "Spielberg-like" one in which two astronomers observe Mac Tonight driving his Cadillac through the sky.
After Christmas 1986, the campaign expanded to other cities on the American West Coast. McDonald's said that the campaign had "great success", while trade magazine Nation's Restaurant News announced that it had contributed to increases of over 10% in dinnertime business at some Californian restaurants. A crowd of 1,500 attended the visit of a costumed character to a Los Angeles McDonald's. Despite concerns that he was too typical of the West Coast, in February 1987 it was decided that the character would feature on national advertisements, which went to air that September, and he attracted a crowd of 1,000 in Boca Raton, Florida. Happy Meal toys of the character were also produced. A September 1987 survey by Ad Watch found that the number of consumers who recalled McDonald's advertising before any other doubled from the previous month, and was higher than any company since the New Coke launch in 1985.
In 1989 Bobby Darin's son, Dodd Mitchell Darin, claimed that the song infringed upon his father's trademark without prior permission and filed a lawsuit as well as an injunction for the song to be removed from both TV and radio ads. In 1997 and 1998, McDonald's sponsored NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott, with Mac Tonight featured on his car. In 2016, the Mac Tonight theme was McDonald's driver Jamie McMurray's Chip Ganassi Racing No. 1 Chevrolet SS throwback scheme for Darlington Raceway's Southern 500.
Doug Jones performed Mac Tonight for 27 spots over three years. In 2013, Doug Jones said that "[T]hat's when my career took a turn that I was not expecting. I didn't know that was a career option. So, the referrals came from there". Mac Tonight's voice was provided by Roger Behr.
Main article YTMND, Moon Man and YouTube
In 2009, YTMND user MluMluxMlan remixed Notorious B.I.G's single Hypnotise, which the original lyrics were replaced by highly racist topics that were voiced by AT&T's text to speech program, while clips from the original Mac Tonight commercial (Moon Man) that have been sped up, play in the background. It wasn't until 6 years later in 2015 when the remixes went widespread and heavily popular. McDonalds later started removing existing Mac Tonight sculptures and Animatronics in response to the widespread remixes. YouTube then started striking down all Moon Man related videos automatically, until multiple change.org petitions were filed demanding YouTube cease removing the videos, the most recent of which from May 2015 having reaching over 1200 signatures. YouTube has since stopped taking Moon Man videos down unless they have been flagged by users.
In popular culture
- The Simpsons episode "Kiss Kiss Bang Bangalore" featured a cardboard cutout of Mac Tonight.
- Mac Tonight was also featured in the music video for Saint Pepsi's song "Enjoy Yourself".
- Prescott, Eileen (November 29, 1987). "The Making of 'Mac Tonight'". The New York Times. Retrieved February 28, 2015.
- Burke, Timothy (22 December 2014). "Rape, Murder, Violent Racism: The Weirdest McDonald's Ad Campaign Ever". Deadspin. Retrieved 28 July 2015.
- "Darin's Son Sues McDonald's". Deseret News. October 15, 1989. Retrieved August 30, 2012.
- "Bill Elliott". Racing Reference. Retrieved 2 December 2015.
- Jensen, Tom (August 15, 2016). "Jamie McMurray unveils 'Mac Tonight' Darlington throwback scheme". Foxsports.com. Retrieved August 30, 2016.
- Radish, Christina (June 25, 2013). "Doug Jones Talks FALLING SKIES Season 3, the Makeup Process, His Career, His Desire to Make HELLBOY 3, and More". Collider. Retrieved December 2, 2015.
- Beauchamp, Scott (August 18, 2016). "How Vaporwave Was Created Then Destroyed by the Internet". Retrieved August 26, 2016.
- Minor, Jordan (May 19, 2016). "McDonald's Mac Tonight should make a comeback as the lead in a fast food cinematic universe". Retrieved August 25, 2016.