Behind McD’s Weird Filet-O-Fish Ad

Chris Edwards, evp and group creative director at Arnold, tells a good fish story about scouting locations last year for a garage in which to film a McDonald’s Filet-O-Fish commercial.

The agency team knew going in that the spot would center around a novelty singing fish mounted on a wall. When they found just such a fish proudly displayed at one of the houses they were considering, they knew they’d found the perfect location.

“They had one of the singing fish hanging on their wall,” Edwards recalls. “I knew we had picked the right place.”

Today, the McDonald’s spot in question — in which the catch of days’ past sings a techno-driven “Gimme back that Filet-O-Fish!” ditty to a nearby guy chowing on said sandwich — is a legitimate viral sensation. It has garnered more than 300,000 YouTube hits in little more than two weeks.

The team, which includes art director Kristen Landgrebe, copywriter Pete Harvey and director Brendan Gibbons of Station Film, also seems to have picked the right tune, a catchy, if absurd, song that has led to DJs remixing the track and fans using it as a ring tone.

“It’s definitely the casting and the music,” said Edwards of the buzz the ad has received, including consumer-generated spots posted on YouTube featuring people singing the song while ordering. “It’s one of those things you never really know [how it will be received] until it’s out there.”

The concept for the spot, explains Edwards, came out of the challenge of producing a commercial that could be used in both English and in Spanish. “It was tricky because you can’t rely on dialogue,” he says, and a singing fish would allow for any idiosyncrasies that can occur in dubbing. Arnold worked with Moroch and Potter-Ruiz on the Hispanic version.

The team decided to let the fish do the talking and at first thought about a Bobby McFerrin “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”-type tune. Composer Josh Peck and his team from Pulse Music in New York came up with six versions for the spot, everything from a low-fidelity, iPhone-recorded track to an a capella and a piano-and-vocal crooner version. In the end, the “Gimme Back” version won out. “I think it was the randomly absurd and goofy line paired with the seemingly awkward scenario on camera that tied it together,” said Peck.

Mark Carlson, senior creative director at McDonald’s, said the company traditionally advertises its Filet-O-Fish during the season of Lent with offbeat humor. Of the spot, he said: “We decided it was harmless and that it fits into the personality of the product. We took a risk.”

Carlson said it’s too soon to say whether that risk will pay off, but noted the company usually sees at least a 24 percent rise in sales of the sandwich during the yearly push. With another week of airtime to go, this one may help surpass past successes. “There seems to be a lot of viral interest beyond the traditional spot,” he said. “Because it’s a little different, it stops you in your tracks. It is one of those songs that really sticks in your head — for better or worse.”