Mac Tonight was a mascot for McDonald's restaurants. A sunglasses-wearing, piano-playing crooner with a crescent moon for a head, he was introduced in 1986 to promote dinnertime business in Southern California, and eventually featured in national advertisements. He sang a jingle based on "Mack the Knife", a song made famous by Bobby Darin, whose family sued in 1989, ending the advertisements.
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. Doug Jones played Mac Tonight for 27 spots over three years, and in 2013 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".
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. Mac Tonight was the sponsor of Bill Elliott's NASCAR car in 1997.
- 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.
- 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.
- "Darin's Son Sues McDonald's". Deseret News. October 15, 1989. Retrieved August 30, 2012.
- "Bill Elliott". Racing Reference. Retrieved 2 December 2015.