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When Ads Go Strange: McDonald's Enlists Frankie the Fish


A catchy song and a disgruntled fish help bring back that Filet-O-Fish market.

The Catholic Church has influenced everything from which days we're able to go shopping, to the look of our buildings and the items we find on menus at fast-food restaurants, including McDonald's (MCD). The Filet-O-Fish, the flaky, breaded sandwich made from Hoki and Pollock, was created in 1962 as a means of capturing that Friday fish-eating Catholic market during the Lenten season. Yet, after almost 50 years on the market, sales of the fish sandwich had started to spoil.

"We wanted to give this old fish sandwich a new hook," says Chris Edwards, Creative Director of Arnold Worldwide about McDonald's Filet-O-Fish. "We wanted people thinking about the Filet-O-Fish all the time and not just on Fridays during Lent."

Edwards is part of the creative team that came up with the Frankie the Fish campaign for McDonald's that began running at the beginning of the Lent season in 2009. The singing fish commercial, an overnight sensation when it launched, is now in its second installment.

Here's the original:

And here's the latest:

The idea to use the "Big Mouth Billy Bass" singing fish in this unique display of musical expression came more from necessity than from McDonald's want of creating a "strange" advertisement. The behemoth food chain tapped its ad agency of 40 years to create an ad that could be used in both English and Spanish-speaking markets. "If you notice, neither of the guys in the commercial say anything," Edwards tells Minyanville.

When Edwards presented the idea to McDonald's he brought in one of the Big Mouth Billy Bass toys to show off the concept. "You just can't help but smile when that thing starts singing," says Edwards. "I didn't realize it at the time, but the fish was on the motion-sensor setting. It just kept going off throughout the meeting."

The Arnold team brought in a music house to create the song, and after 90 different tunes were tried, the team settled on the song that is now featured in the commercials. The team dubbed their creation "Frankie the Fish."

"We thought that the audience was either going to love us or hate us, but we knew that the song was going to stick," recalls Edwards.

Sure enough, the song was posted on YouTube shortly after the commercial's airing and began receiving hundreds of comments within three hours of its posting -- garnering more than 300,000 hits over the two weeks following. Fans of the commercial soon began doing parodies and remixes of the song, as well as singing it to cashiers at McDonald's across the country. "McDonald's is happy, sales went up quite a bit," said Edwards.

People have done more than just pay attention to the commercials, they are true fans. Fan pages have been created on Facebook for the fish commercials and a "Frankie the Fish" version of the Big Mouth Bass has been out in stores like Walmart (WMT) and CVS Caremark (CVS) since January.

"Arnold and McDonald's were nervous about the sequel," said Edwards. "It's hard to top the original."

Edwards says he doesn't know what the future of the campaign will be, but if the success of the campaign is any indication, audiences can likely expect a third installment of Frankie the Fish when Lent rolls around again next year.
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