April 13, 2010

Keith: On "You deserve a break today", Part Three.


Tim: Let's talk about McDonald's "You deserve a break today." It's one of my all time favorite campaigns.

Keith: Some acts of creativity are inspiration, some are exasperation and some are desperation. This was a little of each.

Tim: Tell me about it.

Keith: I've told this story once or twice. In 1970, we were competing with Young & Rubicam and maybe one other agency for McDonald's first national advertising campaign.

Tim: This was Needham.

Keith: Yes, I was the Creative Director of Needham. McDonald's told us that we weren't allowed to do any creative spec..

Tim: Meaning you weren't allowed to do storyboards and...


Keith: Not allowed. We'd be thrown out of the room if we had them. It was down to us and Y&R. They gave us 10 questions each, and my two questions were: "Do we have a unique selling proposition? Is there one unique proposition that should be focused on to the exclusion of all else?" And my second question was "What do you do with Ronald McDonald?"

Tim: Pretty broad questions. What did you do?

Keith: I had creative teams come up with selling propositions. Because my point of view was that you don't have one unique selling proposition, you have a million selling propositions - different to dad, different to kid, different to mom...

Tim: Right. Absolutely.

Keith: So, we put them on black cards and said, "These are some of your selling propositions." Now they were good headlines, but I couldn't present them as headlines.

Tim: Great!

Keith: We won the business. Now we had to do a campaign. So we went back to our selling propositions and we thought, "This is about an experience that is far removed from the daily, nightly meal planning, sitting around the table at home, nuclear family. This is a getaway."

Tim: Interesting.


Please click above for several early McDonald's TV spots.

Keith: Thank God this program never ran, because it would have been embarrassing. It could have been a short promotion. The key visual was this: Cityscape at night. Imagine six little McDonald stores with their golden arches illuminated neon. There were red and white stores in those days, no interiors. In the dark city landscape there are islands. They are islands where you can get away from meal planning, get away from table manners, get a way from vegetables if you are a kid, get away from high prices if you are dad. 'Come to the McDonald's islands.' We did music and we did storyboards. Fred Turner was CEO of McDonald's. He said, "This is the best the campaign I've ever seen. Maybe I need to call the Wall Street Journal and up our projections. This is fabulous."

Tim: Wow!

Keith: So we went out to California to shoot it. We were on the set, well into day 2 and received a call from McDonald's lawyers saying we couldn't say 'Come to the McDonald's Islands.' Some Root beer stands in Nebraska or some place were advertising themselves as Islands of Pleasure. Turner says, "The [heck] with root beer stands. We've got to do this."

Tim: Yikes!

Keith: There we are, with the deadline looming, on the shoot, stuff in the can, and we don't have a campaign.

Tim: Then what?


Keith: I called two music suppliers in New York because I knew what we wanted.

Tim: The pressure must have been incredible ...

Keith: It was. Of the two music suppliers in New York; one was the guy who did the Pepsi Generation who knew I wanted some uplifting getaway music. The other was the guy who had done Pan Am. "Pan Am makes the going great"

Tim: Right.

Keith: So we went to him and he said, "You've got a line?" I said, "Not exactly. We have "Get up and get away to McDonald's", because we were running with the island. He said, "Okay. We'll start working with "Get up and get away." So he brings in tune writers and I'm starting to do lyrics. In the Drake hotel, I wrote "Grab a bucket and mop, scrub the bottom and top." We emphasized clean because Ray Kroc [founder of McDonald's] was obsessed with cleanliness. Islands are clean, and so at McDonald's it's clean. The catch line was "We're so near yet far away" so get up and get away to McDonald's." We are near geographically, but far away experientially. So we did this and picked a Broadway tune (sings) and the catch line is "We are so near yet far away, so get up and get away to McDonald's."

Tim: Okay.

Keith: We take it to McDonald's and they asked, "God that's great. What do they say at the end?" We told them the ending, "We're so near yet far away." They expressed their reservations. They said, "I don't know, we love the music and we love the feeling, but there's something missing.

Tim: Oh boy!

Keith: So now we have eight notes with no words. So we go back (laughs). We go back to research and we listened to women we interviewed who were then called housewives. They said, "Give me a break. I get all the stuff." And we said," Okay, we have got to put the word break on these notes." We start juggling around and I remember typing, remember typewriters?


Tim: Sure.

Keith: "You deserve..." Keep in mind this was my group working and brainstorming, so who knows who comes up with what, we write it down. "You deserve a break today." Does that work? (Sings: You deserve a break...) Yeah. Done.

Tim: Okay.

Keith: So I called Sid Woloshin, who was the music guy, and I say "Sid, I got it." He said, "Sing it. I'll write it down." So I sang, "You deserve a break today" and Sid said, "It's not a sing-able line." I said, "What?" He said, "No. I'm not sure it's a sing-able line." I said, "Sid, you sing it or I'll find somebody else. I'm sure that we are going to have a sale." We did it and McDonald's loved it. One of the funny things about the jingle is that the singers kept singing, "Soak it up and get away" instead of, "So get up and get away". Every time we recorded it we'd have to stop the session and laugh and giggle. Later on when we got out of using :60 second commercials and into using :30s, we shortened it to, "You deserve a break today at McDonald's!"

Tim: That's great.

Keith: So it was an act of desperation!

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