McDonald’s “I’m lovin’ it” is the fast food company’s longest-running marketing campaign. The well-known, five-syllable jingle that accompanies it is as popular as some radio hits. There’s a reason for that popularity, as you’ll see when you read the fascinating history of this well-known slogan.
Brief History of McDonald’s
The story of McDonald’s is almost an American legend. It was immortalized in the 2016 movie The Founder.
Ray Kroc was an Illinois native who once trained as an Army ambulance driver after lying about his age to enlist. He also played the piano in bars and worked as a salesman.
In 1954, Kroc was selling restaurant equipment when he met the McDonalds, two brothers who owned several successful hamburger restaurants in California. A year later, the first McDonald’s opened in Des Plaines, Illinois.
Kroc was 52 when he opened his first McDonald’s. As he once said, “I was an overnight success all right, but 30 years is a long, long night.”
Kroc pioneered the idea of independent franchises with the slogan, “In business for yourself, but not by yourself.” In 1961, he developed a training program for managers and franchisees in Elk Grove, Illinois. Known as Hamburger University, it still exists today.
Early slogans for McDonald’s emphasized the store’s brightness and cleanliness. “Look for the golden arches” became a tagline on these early advertisements, and “golden arches” is one of the company’s trademarked phrases.
Well-Known Marketing Campaigns
In the 1970s, McDonald’s began using the famous jingle and slogan, “You deserve a break today.” In 2016, Advertising Age chose “You deserve a break today” as one of the top advertising campaigns of the century.
In the 1980s, the company introduced advertising that listed the ingredients of a Big Mac set to music as a jingle. This was another spectacular success, as it spurred people to listen to the ad closely so they could memorize the list.
That phrase, “two all beef patties special sauce lettuce cheese pickles onions on a sesame seed bun,” is another McDonald’s trademark. So are Mac Attack, Super Size and Happy Meal. The company holds registered trademarks on these and many other well-known phrases.
When the Loving Started
In 2002, millions of people began hearing the musical phrase, “I’m lovin’ it,” but was it a popular song or an advertising jingle? In fact, it was a little of both.
The story began in 2001, when McDonald’s was looking for a way to boost flagging sales and a worn-out image. The company announced a competition among advertising agencies worldwide. The winning German ad agency came up with the five-note tune and the phrase “I’m lovin’ it.”
McDonald’s then took three steps to make the new tune unforgettable. First, it turned to legendary jingle writer Butch Stewart. Working with his son, Stewart transformed the jingle into a legitimate melody. Second, the company hired Pharrell Williams to write a pop tune using “I’m lovin’ it” as a refrain. Third, McDonald’s paid Justin Timberlake $6 million to perform the song. Timberlake had a massive hit with it, and so did the burger giant.
In 2003, McDonald’s registered “I’m lovin’ it” as a trademark.
The company still uses the jingle and slogan today. It is the longest-running ad campaign in McDonald’s history.
In 2016, McDonald’s tried to replace “I’m lovin’ it” with the graphic Lovin’ > Hatin’. This was a marketing disaster. The same year, the company filed a trademark for the phrase “The Simpler the Better,” but no ads have yet appeared with that tagline.
Besides its slogans, McDonald’s holds trademarks on several menu items, including the Big Mac, Egg McMuffin, Filet-O-Fish and Chicken McNuggets. Other trademarks cover Ronald McDonald, Grimace and the Hamburglar.
In 1973, the creators of the popular TV show HR Pufnstuf successfully sued McDonald’s for copying their show and characters. The burger company’s ads using McDonald Land and its characters were remarkably similar to the setting and characters of the popular children’s show.
After years of legal battles, a court ordered McDonald’s to pay more than $1 million to the show’s creators. McDonald’s stopped using McDonald Land in ads and dropped some of the characters. Of the original characters, only Ronald, the Hamburglar and Grimace remain.
Who’s Your Patty?
In 2009, a small restaurant in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, was successful in its lawsuit against McDonald’s. The Lion Tap used the phrase “Who’s your patty?” to advertise its burgers. When it saw the phrase show up on McDonald’s billboards, the restaurant sued.
“In a move worthy of the Hamburglar or Captain Crook, McDonald’s recently started utilizing Lion’s Tap’s ‘Who’s Your Patty?’ trademark,” the owners said in a statement. “Lion’s Tap is forced to ‘grimace’ and commence this lawsuit to protect its valuable ‘Who’s Your Patty?’ trademark.”
Lawsuits Around Names
Most of the company’s trademark lawsuits have revolved around the use of Mc or Mac in trade names. In 1994, the company successfully sued a coffee shop owner in California. Although she had named her shop McCoffee because of her own name, which is McCaughey, a court ordered her to stop using it.
In 1996, the company lost a legal battle in Denmark when it attempted to stop a hot dog vendor from using the name McAllan for his business. The vendor named it after his favorite whiskey. A court ruled the average consumer could tell the difference between a solo hot dog vendor and a global corporate chain.
The company also lost a case in the Cayman islands against McDonald’s Family Restaurant, a locally owned establishment.
Big Mac Takes on Supermac
McDonald’s longest, costliest legal battle has been against the Irish hamburger chain Supermac. Pat McDonagh founded his restaurant chain in 1978. It is now the biggest fast food franchise in Ireland.
McDonald’s claimed the two names were too similar, especially since both sold similar food items. McDonagh, however, argued that “Mc” and “Mac” are common surnames in Ireland and the UK. He also said most people knew the difference between the two.
In 2019, the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) ruled that Supermac could keep its name. The court also ruled McDonald’s could keep the exclusive use of food names like the Big Mac and Chicken McNuggets.
Keeping the Love Alive
From golden arches to its own pop song, McDonald’s has a long history of memorable marketing campaigns. At the moment, it is sticking with the long-running campaign that began in 2002.