Under the Influence

How a franchisee gone rogue inspired the Big Mac Song

So many brands were built on the backs of jingles. From the Big Mac, to Smarties, to Wheaties cereal. Successful jingles stay lodged in our minds forever. Once you hear them, learn the melody and start singing the lyrics, you become the advertiser.
(YouTube/McDonald's)
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So many brands were built on the backs of jingles. From the Big Mac, to Smarties, to
Wheaties cereal. Successful jingles stay lodged in our minds forever. Once you hear them, learn the melody and start singing the lyrics, you become the advertiser.


The First Jingle

Back in 1926, General Mills asked radio station WCCO in Minneapolis to come up with a special advertising campaign for its Wheaties cereal.

The station delivered a breakthrough that would forever change the advertising industry.

(General Mills)
It was the first singing commercial – and it began airing on Christmas Eve, 1926.

It was performed by the Wheaties Quartet, which was made up of an undertaker, a court bailiff, a printer and a businessman.

Each week for three years, the Wheaties Quartet would sing the jingle live during a half-hour radio show.

But by 1929, national sales of Wheaties had dropped by 50% - and General Mills was considering ending their experiment with breakfast cereal.

When the company took a closer look, it noticed that 60% of Wheaties sales were happening in one single city.

Minneapolis.

Which happened to be the only city where the "Have your tried Wheaties" jingle was airing.

So as an experiment, this "singing commercial" was rolled out across the nation, and sales tripled the very next year. They quadrupled the following year - and the rest is Wheaties history.

It didn't take long for the rest of the advertising industry to take notice.

Soon, jingles became a major marketing tool, peaking in the '50s and '60s.


Special Sauce

The Big Mac was launched in 1967.

It was invented by a man named Michael Delligatti in Uniontown, Pennsylvania.

Delligatti was one of the first McDonald's franchisees in the state.

At that time, he was finding it difficult to compete with the diverse menus of the other hamburger chains in the area. So he came up with the idea of adding a bigger, double-patty hamburger to his menu.

7.6 ounces of moxie. (Gene Puskar/Associated Press)
McDonald's head office was sceptical. Their regular burgers cost only 18 cents. This new double-patty variety would cost 45.

But they gave Delligatti the go-ahead to test his invention at his location. The only stipulation being that he use McDonald's ingredients only. But Delligatti had his own ideas. And went rogue.

Two patties couldn't fit on a standard McDonald's bun. So he opted for a bigger, sesame seed bun he found at a local bakery.

He then added a little invention of his own – he called it "special sauce."

The final product: Two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame-seed bun.

Sound familiar?

He called it a Big Mac. And it was an immediate hit. So McDonald's decided to run with it.

By 1968, the Big Mac had a place on McDonald's permanent menu and was introduced nation-wide.

And soon, nearly 20% of McDonald's total revenues were from Big Mac sales.

In 1974, the words: "Two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame-seed bun" – were written as a headline on a McDonald's print ad that ran in college newspapers.

When the creative director of McDonald's advertising agency saw that ad, he thought – that would make a great jingle:

During that time, McDonald's ran a contest, offering customers a free Big Mac if they could recite the jingle in under 4 seconds.

The original jingle only aired for a year and a half – over 40 years ago. But many can still sing it word-for-word today.

Big Mac. Big jingle. Big impact.


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There were many famous regional jingles created in Canada, too.

If you grew up in Halifax, there is a certain jingle you might be familiar with.

One day in around 1973, commercial producer Charlie Doucet received a phone call from the Casino Taxi company.

The owner wanted a television commercial to advertise his cabs. He asked Charlie to meet him at the bottom of Citadel Hill.

When they met, the taxi owner said he already had an idea for the TV commercial. He wanted to line up all of his 35 taxis in a row and wanted Charlie to film them driving down the hill on Sackville Street.

When Charlie got home that night, something bothered him, so he phoned the taxi company owner and said – if people are caught in the rain, and they need a taxi, and if they think of your commercial, all they will remember are 35 cabs driving down a hill.

What you want them to remember is what to dial. Let me write a jingle that features your phone number.

The taxi owner said ok, and one week later Charlie Doucet came back with this jingle:

That was 44 years ago, and the Casino Taxi jingle is still on the air.

Making it one of the longest-running jingles in Canada.


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