How a former NIU lineman made America’s most beloved marketing slogan

James Krause

DeKALB — Former football team captain John McNamara was inducted into the NIU Athletics Hall of Fame in 1984 without playing a down of football outside of NIU.

McNamara, an offensive guard for the Huskies from 1927 to 1930, made far more of an impact on NIU and the world as an administrator and educator.

McNamara spent his early years out of college as a teacher and coach in Illinois. He also spent several years as an associate professor at the University of Detroit. 

In 1942, McNamara received a doctorate in industrial physiology from Purdue University and just years later joined M&M Candies.

It was early into his tenure with M&M’s that McNamara became the creator of the advertising phrase that researchers at Texas Tech University found in 2014 to be the most-liked in American advertising.

“It melts in your mouth, not in your hands,” became the slogan for M&M’s in 1954, with McNamara being credited with the phrase’s invention. Advertisements throughout the ’50s and beyond promoted how the candy’s hard shell kept the candies from melting in your hand while you ate them.

McNamara became the President of M&M Candies in 1959, introducing peanut M&M’s and several varieties of Uncle Ben’s rice his three-year tenure.

After his time in marketing and business, McNamara returned to NIU in 1970 as a staff member before becoming the Department Chairman of Agro-Marketing in 1978. 

McNamara died in 1989 at the age of 78. The legacy he made on the field as an athlete was far surpassed by his influence on American pop culture.