Under the Influence

How many French fries did the boy in the 1987 McCain ad really have to eat?

It’s remarkable how well-remembered that commercial still is to this day, considering it's 35 years old. The story behind it may surprise you.

An iconic McCain French Fries commercial aired back in 1987. It's remarkable how well-remembered that commercial still is to this day, considering it's 35 years old. And the cute little kid in that commercial — who looks to be about eight years old — would be in his 40s now.

The ad was produced by a Boston-based advertising agency called Clarke Goward Fitts. At that time back in 1987, the agency had small clients. That meant they didn't have huge production budgets that bigger ad agencies enjoyed. But Clarke Goward Fitts had a philosophy: simple strategies with simple executions. Simple didn't mean boring — it meant uncomplicated creativity.

The job was assigned to the creative team of Mike Sheehan and Brian Aldrich. The advertising strategy was clear: "Ask mothers to buy McCain French Fries because kids loved them."

The idea that Sheehan and Aldrich came up with was the epitome of simplicity. To film a typical kid enjoying the French Fries. That was it. Thankfully, McCain didn't have layers of approval processes back then. The ad agency presented the idea, McCain approved it. That would be pretty rare in the 21st century.

A casting call was put out for eight-year-old kids. They each sat down in front of a plate of French Fries and were given a bottle of ketchup and a comic book to read. The camera simply rolled film as they ate. When the creative team looked at all the footage, they chose the little blond boy with the big glasses. There was just something magical about that kid.

The decision to just let the camera roll was the charm of the ad. All we see is a cute little kid putting ketchup on a French fry while reading a comic book, completely unaware of the camera. It was the simplest – least expensive – commercial shoot possible. There was not even any dialogue.

The length of time it took to film the commercial was simply the time it took the kid to eat a plate of French fries. That's it. One take. One plate of fries.

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