AW Throwback: Mac Tonight

01/24/2017 02:19 pm ET Updated Jan 25, 2018

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By Heather Taylor

When the clock strikes

Half past six, babe

Time to head for golden lights.

Hey, it’s a good time

For the great taste — dinner!

At McDonald’s

It’s Mac Tonight!

C’mon, make it Mac Tonight!

With a crescent moon-shaped head, snazzy suit, and crooner’s vocals reminiscent of Bobby Darin with a sprinkling of Michael Bublé, there’s no doubt that Mac Tonight was quite a character in the McDonald’s brand mascot universe.

Back in the 1980s, the fast food landscape was incredibly competitive, better known by its nickname “the burger wars.” Global chains McDonald’s and Burger King duked it out to be number one, among many other burger restaurants, with the kind of ad spending that immediately separated giants from small fry joints.

LA-based ad agency Davis, Johnson, Mogul & Colombatto Inc. had one of the biggest clients in the burger biz — McDonald’s. The goal for their next ad campaign was to increase dinnertime business while giving McDonald’s an edge from its competitors. In 1986, the key to getting there would be thanks to the song then-President Brad Ball had stuck in his head: “Mack the Knife.” Inspired by the catchy tune, the team at D.J.M.C. added new lyrics and a fresh musical arrangement. The jingle was ready, but what about the mascot?

Peter Coutroulis, former Creative Director at D.J.M.C., was intent on making Mac Tonight an original creation. His head would be in the shape of a crescent moon with a real man’s body. (Portrayed by a real actor too — Doug Jones would play him in 27 commercial spots.) He wore all black with hip 1950s dark glasses and was seated at a white baby grand piano, voiced by Roger Behr. Mac Tonight was featured floating in the sky, sometimes with a cloud beneath the piano, sometimes not, tickling the ivories in commercials with the McDonald’s Golden Arches close by.

It was an unusual campaign for a brand so infamous for embracing clowns, kids, and lunchtime, but Mac Tonight paid off. The ads were just the right amount of sophisticated, edgy, and offbeat to get the conversation going with consumers. Dinner at McDonald’s, along with its whimsical mascot, had serious buzz and business which is exactly what the brand needed to stand out during the burger wars.

After the campaign ended its run in 1997, Mac Tonight would make a triumphant return to televisions in 2007. This commercial spot highlights McDonald’s 24-hour locations in Singapore. Mac Tonight has traded the baby grand for a sax and floating in the sky for tap dance moves atop the McDonald’s roof, but he’s still got the same sense of style we remember him for in the 1980s — and a swingin’ new jingle!

All day and all night

Step out for a bite

For treats that delight

24 hours a day

Come down to Mac Tonight, hey!