If you’ve ever had the Big Mac jingle stuck in your head, blame Max Cooper.
He’s credited with spreading a 1974 slogan that became one of the most insistent earworms in advertising:
The Chicago-born son of Polish-Jewish immigrants became a confidant of McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc and played key roles in the chain’s early marketing.
Mr. Cooper, 99, died Sunday in Alabama, where he said he helped introduce the “extra value meal” concept at his many McDonald’s restaurants. He owned or co-owned an estimated 45 franchises and drove a Lexus wrapped with McDonald’s ads.
His theater investments were almost as successful as his restaurants. A childhood fan of Yiddish vaudeville, he became a Tony-winning Broadway producer of the 2003 revival of “Long Day’s Journey Into Night,” as well as the musical “Spring Awakening,” which ran from 2006 to 2009.
Though the Big Mac jingle is credited to adman Keith Reinhard of the DDB agency, it didn’t gain traction until a clever marketing stunt by Mr. Cooper, according to McDonald’s archivist Michael Bullington.
“Max said, ‘Let’s have some fun with the jingle,’ so in the Birmingham, Alabama, market, he said, ‘Let’s see if customers or people on the street can say the jingle in a certain amount of time,’ ” Bullington said.
Those who could recite it in four seconds won free Big Macs. The slogan spread across the nation, Bullington said.
More than 40 years later, the ditty pops up occasionally in McDonald’s ads.
Mr. Cooper’s public relations agency, Max Cooper & Associates, landed the McDonald’s account in the 1950s because of a cold call by account manager Al Golin that is legendary in ad circles. The agency was renamed Cooper, Burns and Golin. It evolved into Golin.
“Ray was a true leader. He inspired people,’’ Mr. Cooper told Bullington in a company history.
When he was a boy, his family moved around Chicago because his father’s Depression-era bakeries always seemed to falter. Young Max “was selling flowers in the middle of the street,” said his great-nephew, Daniel Raffel. “He was doing anything he could.” He attended Marshall High School, but didn’t graduate.
In World War II, he served in the Army, where he suspected a superior’s anti-Semitism extended his life. Before his unit moved to a South Pacific hot spot, nearly every Jewish soldier in the group was transferred to London.
“It saved his life,” Raffel said.
He met his wife, Lorayne Yellich Cooper, at a dance, said Daniel Raffel’s wife, Sara.
Though he kept a home in Chicago, he took up residence in Birmingham in the 1960s, when McDonald’s offered him Alabama franchises.
He and Lorayne, a Chicago schoolteacher who died in 2008, funded the education of dozens of students, Daniel Raffel said. The Coopers also helped relatives with seed money for businesses. Mr. Cooper raised money for the Ronald McDonald House in Birmingham.
Until a couple of weeks ago, he was still going into his office, Daniel Raffel said.
He exercised regularly, riding a stationary bike in a pinstriped suit.
Though he had an eye for investments, one of his biggest regrets was failing to finance the Nathan Lane-Matthew Broderick smash, “The Producers.”
His main indulgence was jetting to family gatherings and milestones. “He was, literally, everybody’s Uncle Max,” Daniel Raffel said.
A memorial is scheduled from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday at his Chicago home. A Birmingham service is planned.