Open source: A brand strategy for McDonalds

Marketing magazine recently listed McDonalds Restaurants as the most hated brand in the UK, only Heather McCartney was more hated. Being compared to Heather McCartney is really, really bad which is the reason why I think that Maccy D’s needs a helping hand.

Why the image problem?

  • McLibel – a badly handled lawsuit and poor reputation management meant that a couple of environmental activists managed to do communications judo fight that slammed the McDonald’s brand to the mat
  • Supersize Me – Morgan Spurlock’s documentary pinned the obesity blame on McDonald’s upselling and cross-selling tactis at the counter. In fact its a more complex issue taking into account social issues, psychology and the wider quest by ingredient companies for cheaper methods of production such as high-fructose corn syrup. But that doesn’t make Spurlock’s damage to the brand any easier to handle
  • Environmental issues – McDonald’s has been mired in criticism about environmental impact for as long as I can remember from rainforest being cut down to make grazing land for beef and to grow coffee beans to styrofoam cups that were made using CFCs. The complaints get a lot more attention than their work with NGOs to correct their actions
  • Fast Food Nation – McDonald’s is not the only company mentioned but the company’s brand is so well-known that it personifies the fast-food sector and so suffers from the tall-poppy syndrome
  • Wayne and Waynetta stereotyping of McDonalds customers
  • McJob – the restaurant chain came to define low-paying soul-destroying service industry jobs
  • McDonalds culture – the brand became synonimous with the Americanising of global culture
  • I’m Lovin It – a jingle that is even more irritating than the summer’s novelty track
  • The Ray Kroc factor – your leader speaks from the dead on a series of pre-recorded video tapes gives McDonalds an almost L Ron Hubbard sheen of weirdness
  • Ronald McDonald – there is something that makes me uneasy about a man who wears make-up and loves children
  • Being consistent isn’t the same as being good – when McDonald’s entered the UK back in the early 1970s providing a clean safe environment that was the same in each restaurant reassured customers. Now it no longer fits into people’s vision of themselves as individualists. Hygiene and safety are considered a given, rather than an feature

So what’s the brands strengths?

McDonald’s is fast-food. The company has exceptionally high brand awareness, its restaurants are a great way to allow people to experience a brand and it can’t be ignored, consumers have to have a reaction to the brand.

What about recommendations?

Make McDonald’s about people, the adverts are about products, not the people underneath the baseball caps; its easier to hate a faceless entity or a weird clown.

Many people I speak to about McDonald’s look down on the restaurant, but also describe the times when they have eaten there as a ‘guilty pleasure’ – a decadent breakfast treat or hangover food. Or they grab a burger and chips after a night out drinking. Should McDonald’s think about communicating into this guilty pleasure space for adults in the same way that Pot Noodle has, or like Kellogg’s Corn Flakes did with their cereal at night marketing communications a number of years ago?

Why open source?

I don’t have all the answers, so I figured why not throw it out to the marketing and communications bloggers. I’d like to tag James Gordon-Mackintosh, Iain Tait, Stephen Davies, Stephen Waddington, Lewis and Jaz at ShinyRed and David Brain. What do you think McDonald’s problems are, and how should they start to address them? Or should they address them at all?