Mac Tonight

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Mac Tonight animatronic at Solid Gold McDonald's in Greenfield, Wisconsin.

Mac Tonight is a fictional character who appeared in television commercials for McDonald's restaurants in the 1980s, known for his crescent moon head, sunglasses, and piano-playing. 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 McDonald's to take it nationwide in 1987. McDonald's ceased airing the commercials after settling a lawsuit brought by Darin's estate, although the character was reintroduced in Southeast Asia in 2007.


The campaign was created locally for California McDonald's franchisees by Los Angeles firm Davis, Johnson, Mogul & Colombatto.[1] 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.[1] 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.[1] The character, who plays a piano on a floating cloud, was intended to garner a "cult-like" following, like Max Headroom.[1] 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.[1]

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.[1] A crowd of 1,500 attended the visit of a costumed character to a Los Angeles McDonald's.[1] 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.[1] Happy Meal toys of the character were also produced.[2] 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.[1]

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".[3] Mac Tonight's voice was provided by Roger Behr.[4]

Bill Elliott's Mac Tonight car in 1997

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.[5] In 1997 and 1998, McDonald's sponsored NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott, with Mac Tonight featured on his car.[6] 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.[7]

Mac Tonight was reintroduced in advertisements in Southeast Asia in 2007.[8]

In popular culture[edit]

Moon Man[edit]

Moon Man is an alternative interpretation of Mac Tonight that advocates white supremacy, terrorism and genocide. The character was created in 2007 by the user farkle on the internet community YTMND, showing a video loop of Mac Tonight with the reggaeton song "Chacarron Macarron" by Rodney Clark in the background. Using a text-to-speech program by AT&T, other users made Moon Man sing and rap. The first such video had him performing "Money in the Bank" by Lil Scrappy, with few lyrical changes apart from a chorus chanting for the Ku Klux Klan. Further videos were made portraying Moon Man as a racist.[8] The Moon Man character is not endorsed by McDonald's.[8]

In 2015, the meme spread to websites such as 4chan and 8chan, as part of the alt-right movement. New songs were made supporting Donald Trump and police brutality and celebrating the Pulse nightclub shooting. YouTube consistently removes Moon Man videos for breach of conditions on hate speech, and AT&T have edited their text-to-speech software to filter out the character's name and obscenities.[8] Liberal website compared Moon Man to Pepe the Frog, another obscure character made into a seemingly racist meme.[8]

Journalist Charles C. Johnson raised funds for a pro-Trump billboard in the battleground state of Pennsylvania ahead of the 2016 election, depicting Pepe the Frog as Trump guarding the wall on the Mexican border, and Moon Man in the background.[11]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Prescott, Eileen (November 29, 1987). "The Making of 'Mac Tonight'". The New York Times. Retrieved February 28, 2015. 
  2. ^ a b Burke, Timothy (22 December 2014). "Rape, Murder, Violent Racism: The Weirdest McDonald's Ad Campaign Ever". Deadspin. Retrieved 28 July 2015. 
  3. ^ 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. 
  4. ^ "Roger Behr". Patterson & Associates. 
  5. ^ "Darin's Son Sues McDonald's". Deseret News. October 15, 1989. Retrieved August 30, 2012. 
  6. ^ "Bill Elliott". Racing Reference. Retrieved 2 December 2015. 
  7. ^ Jensen, Tom (August 15, 2016). "Jamie McMurray unveils 'Mac Tonight' Darlington throwback scheme". Retrieved August 30, 2016. 
  8. ^ a b c d e Sheffield, Matthew (25 October 2016). "Meet Moon Man: The alt-right's racist rap sensation, borrowed from 1980s McDonald's ads". Salon. 
  9. ^ Beauchamp, Scott (August 18, 2016). "How Vaporwave Was Created Then Destroyed by the Internet". Retrieved August 26, 2016. 
  10. ^ 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. 
  11. ^ "Trump-Inspired Pepe The Frog Billboards To Hit Battleground State". Vocativ. 6 October 2016. Retrieved 26 November 2016. 

External links[edit]