Under the Influence

The three-word jingle that made one company billions of dollars

Jingles had a great run until the late ‘80s, then songs overtook them. But a few big jingles have beaten the trend in recent years. One in particular has even made one company ten figures.
(McDonalds Corp)
Listen to the full episode27:06

Jingles had a great run until the late '80s, then songs overtook them. But a few big jingles have beaten the trend in recent years. One in particular has even made one company billions of dollars…


Big Mac Comeback

In 2002, McDonald's was in trouble.

The company posted the first quarterly loss in its history, losing $344 million. It had to withdraw from three countries and closed nearly 200 under-performing restaurants.

Other fast food companies were cropping up and eating into their market share.

So McDonald's held a competition between 14 international advertising agencies to come up with a game-changing campaign.

The winning agency was Heye & Partner, a DDB subsidiary based in the suburb of Munich. Compared to the other heavy-hitting ad agencies in the competition, the German shop was microscopic. But its idea would become the very first global campaign in McDonald's then 63-year history.

Their concept was: "Ich leeb iz," which loosely translates to "I'm lovin' it."

Next, the agency needed to turn their idea into a jingle.

During an early session with a German music production company, they got the inspiration for the famous "I'm Lovin' It" jingle when the president of the ad agency overheard a backup singer warming up in the studio.

This gave them the idea to collaborate with a fresh-out-of-'N Sync Justin Timberlake to create the jingle.

Then they made an interesting decision:

They had an entire three-and-a-half minute song created for Timberlake called I'm Lovin' It, co-written by Pharrell Williams:

They decided to release the song prior to the campaign and didn't mention McDonald's at all. The marketing executive behind the collaboration called the decision "Reverse engineering."

First they released the slogan into pop culture. Then, they would release the campaign and jingle, allowing the public to connect the song to McDonald's on their own.

I'm Lovin' It — the song — charted across Europe and was released as a digital download in the U.S.

Then McDonald's released its "I'm Lovin' It" campaign in 2003, with five commercials each aimed at different target audiences and translated into 11 languages.

The first version was released in Germany, in honour of the German agency that came up with the idea. Then the rest of world followed.

The TV campaign featured both vocals and appearances from Timberlake and the rap duo The Clipse.

McDonald's spent a lot of money launching the new jingle. But it was worth it.

U.S. sales shot up by $680 million and worldwide sales increased over $1.8 billion that year alone. An extraordinary rebound.

Today, "I'm Lovin' It" is the longest-running McDonald's jingle in its 77-year history.

Clearly, they love it.


Crunchy Controversy

One of the more popular vintage jingles was for Sugar Crisp cereal.

The brand has a mascot called Sugar Bear, which had been developed in the late 1940s.

The long-running TV campaign featured Sugar Bear singing a very laid-back jingle, and usually featured the bear and his nemesis Granny Goodwitch trying to out-maneuver one another for the cereal.

Granny Goodwich was voiced by Ruth Buzzi, of Laugh-In fame, by the way, and the Sugar Bear has been voiced by actor Gerry Matthews for over 40 years.

The jingle itself was based on an old spiritual song called Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho written in the mid 1800s:

Many had assumed Gerry Matthews was doing a loose imitation of Bing Crosby in those commercials.

Then we read an interesting story that said Matthews was actually impersonating Dean Martin, but when the commercials first aired, Sugar Crisp was sued by Bing Crosby, who thought they were imitating him.

So we asked Gerry Matthews if it was true. He said Bing Crosby was always the inspiration for Sugar Bear, and no, the Bingster never did sue.


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Under The Influence is recorded in the Terstream Mobile Recording studio - a 1969 Airstream trailer that's been restored and transformed into a studio on wheels. So host Terry O'Reilly can record the show wherever he goes.

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The Terstream Mobile Recording Studio. (Image Credit: Sidney O'Reilly)