The Details Behind Fast Food’s Most Famous Jingle Are Unsavory
The classic ad jingle contains two elements: a message and a tune. From a marketing standpoint, jingles are meant to get stuck in a listener’s head so as to initiate a subconscious bridge between product and memory and over the years, several have transcended the world of advertising and infiltrated popular culture. Heads are probably all familiar with contemporary examples like “for the best car insurance rates in town, call 1-800-GENERAL now” or Oscar Myer’s famous “My bologna has a first name” jingle, and in the digital-media era, short-format ad campaigns are proliferating even more, particularly on video platforms. And yet, as ubiquitous as they are, the histories behind how they came to be often remain unknown.
Shows like “Mad Men” brought the 1960s advertising revolution into modern-day terms and in its landmark final episode, an air of mystery surrounded lead character Don Draper’s role in devising one of history’s most iconic musical advertisements: 1971’s “I’d like to buy the world a Coke.” Immediately following the episode, much of the Twittersphere and related social-media worlds were engaged in a conversation about the what, where, when, why, and how of not only the famous Coca-Cola ad, but other, more current examples. And sometimes, the emergent details of jingles are surprisingly complex and interesting (for example, did you know Barry Manilow and the Rolling Stones wrote or performed jingles before becoming famous?). But a story that has surfaced today deals with details far beyond the “who” behind what is likely the world’s most famous jingle, and the details are vast, astounding, and involve Hip-Hop.
Pitchfork’s July 14 report “The Contentious Tale of the McDonald’s ‘I’m Lovin’ It’ Jingle” is a bit of investigative journalism, cultural exposé, and good ol’ fascinating history. Written by Marc Hogan, it traces the history of the jingle (“ba da ba ba ba, I’m lovin’ it”), which began in 2003 when Justin Timberlake signed on to become its inaugural singer. As Hogan writes, the ad marked “the first time the venerable fast-food company had ever used a single message and set of commercials worldwide at the same time,” and it remains the company’s longest-running slogan to date. The timing of Hogan’s story is related to Pusha T, who in June was reported to have been instrumental in the writing of the jingle. However, as Hogan writes, the details are mixed-up at best. “As it turns out, the full story behind the McDonald’s ditty is part David and Goliath, part King Midas, and part ‘Mad Men,’ with plenty that foreshadows both the 21st-century music industry and the culture beyond it,” he writes.
It’s 2003 and amid a growing global movement of health consciousness and education about nutrition, McDonald’s is in dire financial straits. That’s when the fast-food giant decided to hold a contest inviting ad agencies to create its new campaign and eventually, a German agency was selected as the winner. What Heads will likely be most interested in is the following detail Hogan shares: “Music, specifically Hip-Hop, was part of the package from the beginning,” he says. However, the undeniably American musical culture was not the ad’s first contributor; it was German music-production company Mona Davis who would ultimately be given “musical development” credit. Mona Davis president Tom Batoy and others, according to Hogan, “consistently listed among the songwriters for the myriad versions of ‘I’m Lovin’ It’ in the databases of ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC, organizations that track songwriting royalties.”
And so, the seeds of contention were planted. “I’m Lovin’ It” became an enormous musical force, and was “was no ordinary jingle.” In fact, it became what Hogan describes as a “full-fledged Timberlake song” that was reported by MTV News to have originally been “scheduled for the former ’NSYNC leader’s second solo album.” The same report mentioned that because the song had leaked online that its release was going to be rushed and thus Timberlake’s three-song I’m Lovin’ It E.P. was born. Produced by the Neptunes, “I’m Lovin’ It” helped the E.P. hit number one in Belgium, and it became an example of what renowned Hip-Hop music executive Steve Stoute has described (as quoted by Hogan) as “reverse engineering,” which McDonald’s did by “first putting [the jingle] in a pop culture form that isn’t connected in any way to the brand.”
In 2011, Stoute described this particular move by McDonald’s step-by-step in his book The Tanning of America: How Hip-Hop Created a Culture That Rewrote the Rules of the New Economy, which Hogan quotes. “Commission a song to be performed by an iconic artist; promote it months before [the] McDonald’s campaign; and at the same time start promoting the marketing slogan,” wrote Stoute of he “I’m Lovin’ It” development. As the campaign was executed, a handful of sister advertisements targeting different demographics but containing the same message were released, including the one below starring the Clipse. In the decision to use rappers to deliver a junk-food product to communities of color Hogan writes “Evidently there’s something delicious about a rapper famous for his vivid wordplay about moving dope proving just as adept at hawking cheeseburgers.”
In an e-mail to Pitchfork, Batoy reportedly stated that “Pusha T was never involved in the creation of the McDonald’s jingle ‘I’m Lovin’ It,'” a statement which effectively refutes Stoute, whose own statement in an interview with Hot 97’s James Ebro is what set off the ongoing debate about who, if anyone, also deserves credit for the internationally successful jingle. Others have supported Batoy’s claim, but the decision of King Push’s Def Jam rep to decline to comment on Pitchfork’s story is adding considerable fuel to the hypothetical fire. The only straightforward comments Hogan claims to have received are vague, to say the least. “When asked over the phone about it, Pusha’s manager told Pitchfork, ‘You’d have to ask Pusha T,'” Hogan writes. Push himself commented only with “It’s funny that people find it so amusing now that I wrote that” when speaking with Pitchfork radio in June. What began as a seemingly innocuous tidbit in an Ebro interview has turned into a maelstrom for Push, who according to his manager is “receiving a ton of press requests about it.”
This story re-emphasizes a trend that Heads are familiar with – that of the MC hired to help a brand sell products to communities of color. Many feel that companies like Sprite – who famously released cans of their soda featuring lyrics from rappers like Nas, Biggie, Drake, and others – are only harming already maligned communities and youth when enlisting the help of rappers. Others make the point that it seems rappers are overwhelmingly used to sell products that could be considered harmful – alcohol products, soda, and fast food to name a few. As Hogan writes, “[r]appers routinely appear in shoe commercials,” and campaigns like Sprite’s most recent prove that the trend remains prevalent in 2016.