Laura Slattery: Lust, hunger but no fries as McDonald’s resurrects 1980s classic for new campaign

I’m Lovin’ It gives way to Yello’s soundtrack staple Oh Yeah as eyebrow-raising TV advertisement goes full chick-chick-ahh

Cadbury gave us Danse des Mirlitons from Tchaikovsky’s the Nutcracker. Hamlet cigars claimed Bach’s Air on the G String. Now a new McDonald’s advertising campaign has made a fresh bid to repopularise another classic: the 1985 single Oh Yeah by Swiss electronic duo Yello.

You probably know the one, even if you don’t know you know it. The much-treated vocal goes “doo, bow-bow” followed by a gluttonous “oh…yeahhh”, then there’s just a tiny “chick” before its pièce de résistance, a final “chick-chick-ahh”.

Some genius is hard to convey on the page, okay?

The key point here is that, in part by being less of a song and more a collection of sounds, Oh Yeah has long been recognised as audio shorthand for lust, plus several other deadly sins besides.


It’s perfect for advertising. Indeed, it’s only been five minutes since it last appeared on an ad.

This latest resurfacing could scarcely be more high profile. In a convincing reminder that January is a month of heavy sighs and small pleasures, McDonald’s UK & Ireland has deployed Oh Yeah in a one-minute television spot directed by Edgar Wright of Shaun of the Dead, Baby Driver and Last Night in Soho fame.

The hiring of comedy, horror and comedy-horror aficionado Wright has automatically delivered trayfuls of publicity for the ad, but the lead has been buried somewhat, with McDonald’s glossing over its unoriginal but still exquisite choice of music and preferring to talk about how it wants us to “raise our arches”.

It doesn’t mean the ones in our feet. The fast-food chain has instead entered the fraught cultural space of the eyebrow and built its campaign, created by the agency Leo Burnett London, around the concept that a double-arching of both brows can be readily interpreted as both a reference to its golden arches logo and a signal to march to the nearest McDonald’s immediately.

Lifting two eyebrows twice like this, of course, isn’t really a thing humans do in the wild unless they’re practising a droll arch of a single brow and have yet to quite master this life skill. So as facial gestures go, it’s there to be taken and transformed into a corporate instruction, like a branded tic.

And while brows have taken centre stage in TV advertising before – an award-winning Cadbury Dairy Milk ad from 2009, for instance, showed two children performing an “eyebrow dance” – I can’t recall one where an attempt has been made to turn their movement into a call-to-action. This is so splendidly daft, it can’t fail.

In the ad, a woman, teed off with the monotony of office life, scrawls the arches on to a Post-it note for her colleague, raising both eyebrows at her and securing her as an ally for what becomes a mass walkout, organised non-verbally through the medium of brow choreography.

Soon the entire workforce is making mad facial gestures at each other as they all depart at once in pursuit of a quarter pounder with cheese.

This is obviously bad tactics as the last thing you should do when a McDonald’s craving strikes is to create the conditions that guarantee a queue. But we don’t see what happens after they escape the office, as there’s no sign of a McDonald’s restaurant in this ad, nor is there a glimpse of any McDonald’s food. Not from tantalisingly afar, not in lascivious close-up. Not a nugget.

Oh Yeah is, in summary, associated with sex, cars and ridiculousness. As co-opted by McDonald’s, it is an instant signifier of want, wrapped in nostalgia

The absence is a display of brand muscle-flexing. Other McDonald’s ads running concurrently are less subtle, however, and it’s not as if the company is about to completely ditch the succulently filmed burger from its commercial imagery anytime soon.

One iteration of the campaign, which I was served on Spotify, orders listeners to raise their arches before swiftly issuing the more straightforward invitation to download its app.

This ad is a bit of a mélange, kicking off as it does with the “bow-bows” of Oh Yeah before finishing on the whistling snippet of McDonald’s old audio signature “ba-da, ba-ba-bah”. To my ears, it’s a clash of eras, as the jingle dates from 2003, when it was sung by Justin Timberlake as I’m Lovin’ It, while what Oh Yeah screams of most of all is the decade of its birth: the unashamedly salty 1980s.

The generation now parenting the children McDonald’s would dearly love to convert into customers, but are not permitted to target directly through advertising, will remember the Yello track from its use in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986).

The first rumbles begin as Cameron shows Ferris his father’s red 1961 Ferrari, a car Ferris covets and Mr Frye is said to love “more than life itself”. It is then played in full over the end credits as beleaguered principal Mr Rooney, infuriated by Ferris and savaged by the Buellers’ dog, is picked up by the not exactly Ferrari-esque schoolbus.

But the song features even more prominently in The Secret of My Success (1987), a Hollywood primer on capitalism starring Michael J Fox, in which it accompanies a scene where Vera (the late Margaret Whitton) advertises her sexual appeal to Fox in a limo. It then returns to enliven an extended sequence of farcical bed-hopping shenanigans.

Oh Yeah is, in summary, associated with sex, cars and ridiculousness. As co-opted by McDonald’s, it is an instant signifier of want, wrapped in nostalgia. Who needs a product shot? If lockdown desires taught us anything, it’s that a great portion of the joy of fast food lies in the anticipation.

A non-fan might wager that it is better to fancy a McDonald’s than it is to have eaten one. A cynic might argue the 1980s soundtrack suggests a company that is a little too comfortable harking back to happier times when much of its global expansion was still ahead of it.

Still, in plumping for Yello’s finest three minutes, its ad gurus provide a textbook example of how to suggest gleeful consumption without actually depicting it. All it takes is a squad of rubber-faced actors and a few chick-chick-ahhs.