Steve Stoute: I’m Lovin’ It

The U.S-based marketing guru talks about McDonald’s jingles, music and Will Smith, ahead of his Dubai Lynx talk

There can’t be many people on the planet who don’t know the famous McDonald’s slogan ‘I’m Lovin’ It’ or who haven’t listened to the accompanying jingle. And then there’s the equally-famous song sang by Justin Timberlake.

Steve Stoute is credited as the man leading that McDonald’s campaign during his time working for an ad agency in New York – a period he calls his “glorified internship”.

This invaluable experience came after a successful role as a music executive for Sony Music, and inspired him to found his own agency Translation.

“I worked at that agency for about 18 months, understanding the mechanics of agencies and creative firms, strategy, the language of clients, along with scopes and briefs.”

Along with the world-famous McDonald’s campaign, Stoute was also the man behind the Reebok and Allen Iverson collaboration, launching the former basketball player’s signature sneaker line in the late 1990s.

“I combined rap and basketball – I was the first to do that. It was one of the most iconic slots, and comes up often as it was regarded as breakthrough”.

During that ‘internship’, Stoute learned the tricks of the trade to help him launch his own agency. “I was learning, became astute in understanding the business and launched Translation.

“McDonald’s taught me so much about the global business and coming up with a campaign that had to resonate around the world, and allowed me to use some of my music business relationships.”

From music to marketing

So why give up a successful career as a record exec at Sony Music?

During that time, the record label was doing a soundtrack for the Men in Black movie (starring Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones). A creative agency did the product placement for Ray-Ban sunglasses, which were a big part of the movie.

“When the music and movie came out, the glasses exploded in sales. I distinctly remember people being surprised. But for me, I understood the music business very well and knew that music can drive contagious consumer behaviour around a product.

“A movie that can penetrate pop culture can do that, if the product is in the right light.”

“Because it was so successful, and people thought it was a phenomenon, I realised it was an opportunity that I could go into advertising business and create ‘phenomenon’ like that as I understood the marketing and importance of culture and the rules of contagion.”

Side note: Will Smith and Stoute became friends and have worked closely together since.

Translation born

When Stoute set up his own agency, he scored an early win thanks to State Farm, coming up with a new jingle and repositioning the traditional brand to become more relevant to a new generation.

He not only understands the power of music but has an impressive list of high-profile musicians who he counts as contacts and friends. “Melody and images create memories. It’s the heart of everything, working in concert.”

Fast-forward to today and the work he is raving about involves an AT&T helmet campaign that utilises its 5G technology to help deaf and hard of hearing American football players.

Coaches can communicate to players remotely via a headset built into their helmets. For deaf players this is obviously a problem

AT&T developed a headset that converts the coach’s words into text which can be displayed on the helmet’s visor. “It’s been an amazing success, and I predict it will be heavily decorated at this year’s Cannes Lions. It’s very powerful and something we are hugely proud of.”

Solutions and diversity

 Stoute likes to do things differently, from the staff he employs to how he views his agency. “I have moved away from the idea that we are just an agency. We are a creative solutions company and we have a very distinct perspective.

“The word ‘agency’ has gotten a reputation that it is an expense not an investment. We are an investment.”

As an African-American, he is keen to promote diversity within his organisation, not just in terms of race but gender and culture. “We are a very diverse company. Diversity was seen as a tactic, something you had to do. And not a strength that gave you an advantage. But that’s how I have always looked at it, and always will.”

Stoute will be speaking at the upcoming Dubai Lynx Festival of Creativity (which takes place 5-6 March). One of the things he will talk about is speed and control.

“I will be talking about the speed of fame and penetration and change. A lot of brands have not understood that.”