Thoughts on Brand ID…inspired by a McDonalds breakfast!

Posted: 4th February 2022

Disclaimer: I have just finished a McDonalds breakfast at my desk on a Friday morning…and no, I don’t feel guilty!

This got me thinking about branding as I (briefly) wrestled with the ‘guilt’ of wolfing down a double sausage McMuffin, AND a bacon McMuffin, AND a hash brown, ignoring the eyes of shame from across the room and respecting my wingman in crime – thanks George!

You would have to go to a very quiet corner of the earth to find someone with whom the words ‘golden arches’, ‘Maccie D’s, or ‘Mc’ anything, doesn’t resonate.

From the humble beginnings of a burger joint in California, circa 1940, Ray Croc had the idea to franchise out the concept, birthing the global fast-food powerhouse that we all know as McDonalds today. Love it or hate it, we’ve all had one, yes, you included! Even people that say, “I don’t watch television” (you know who you are…) have probably, at some point enjoyed the warm embrace of a cheese dripping, gherkin adorned patty in brioche, with ketchup and a smattering of salad. Whether consumed from the lap in a car park just off the A47, done ‘posh’ at a table in one of the 1270+ ‘restaurants’ in the UK, or more recently, clicked to your door via your guilty food-hailing app of choice, there is no denying that McDonalds has firmly inserted itself into our lives.

Shall we get a McDonalds? Is generally the suggestion, loosely floated with an air of the ridiculous…quickly followed by a reaffirming ‘no, seriously, shall we…’?

And this is the crux. ‘A McDonalds’. Not, ‘shall we order some food’ or ‘anyone fancy a flat round sausage patty with a similarly round egg, in an also very round brioche bun’. It’s a McDonalds. It’s not ‘a burger’ or ‘some fries’ (chips…please), it’s a McDonalds. In the same way that a vacuum cleaner is a Hoover, and kitchen cleaning is done with Jiff (Ciff?), we all know what a McDonalds is.

It’s sustenance on a rainy car journey, inspired by glistening golden arches on the horizon, just out of view around an endless bend on the road to Wigan, signalling a break from the monotony of driving, in the safety of a good ol’ British service station car park. It’s the comfort of knowing that from Bognar to Beirut you will be served something familiar that reminds you of home, even though it was conceived a million miles away, because there is one round the corner from where YOU live, and it tastes the same.

‘And you know what they call a… a… a Quarter Pounder with Cheese in Paris?’

Says Vincent Vega in the cult classic Pulp Fiction, directorial confidence that anyone in the audience would get the reference.

And the brand is truly invincible. We all have a ‘nugget’ of information that we like to share regarding McDonalds. Something that we have heard on the grapevine that we use to suggest our own superiority of taste and lifestyle.

“Have you ever looked closely at a McDonalds burger?” or “Have you seen how much sugar is in a McDonalds bun”

…we will say in the form of our own personal, somewhat pretentious disclaimer, secretly knowing that none of this makes the slightest bit of difference when it comes to ordering a quarter pounder with cheese. And that’s the important bit. It’s the same as ordering a ‘dirty kebab’ after a few too many beers, (can I just point out at this point that I don’t live on junk food…) we can all get on board with the conversation that starts with ‘do you like gherkins?’. Everyone, yes EVERYONE has an opinion on this! It’s up there with ‘what’s your favourite colour’, a question that ensures an answer of some sort.

We all have a way of eating one too! Do you put the fries in the lid of the burger box? Do you fish out the gherkins, or ‘pickles’, and hand them to your fellow diner with that look on your face that suggests you’ve just smelt something awful? Like Marmite, love ‘em or hate ‘em, they’re on your radar. Do you eat the fries first so that you don’t fill up on the burger and end up neglecting them later? Are you the kind of Rockstar that doesn’t order the ‘meal’, and instead goes for 2 burgers and a drink? (That’s me). Maybe you’re the loaner that will go for the ‘drive-thru’ option, even when you have plenty of time on your hands, and have driven in your PJs from your house just around the corner because you want to gorge yourself in shame behind the safety of your car windscreen? Or, did you just tag along because everyone else was going, but you wouldn’t normally? We don’t believe you, by the way…

The McDonalds name is so strong that the ‘Mc’ prefix is all that’s needed to link anything back to the brand. I would argue, and this won’t do much for Anglo-Scottish relations, that a scarily large percentage of the world would associate those two little letters more with a global mega truck of fast-food branding than they would with the beautiful country that lies just north of Hadrian’s wall. Foreign relations restored, phew!

Much in the same way that anything beginning with a lowercase ‘I’ is a product from Cuppertino, a McSomething is instantly recognisable. A Happy Meal and a McFlurry are a kids menu option and an ice-cream, without any need for explanation.

Going for Maccie D’s was the height of reward when I was a nipper. It was the result of doing something good, or the antidote to literally anything bad that had happened. It was almost a rule when going on any school outing, or trip in general. Can we stop for a McDonalds? Pleeeeeeeaaaaaassseee???????

I can remember, like it was yesterday being 11 years old and going to McDonalds courtesy of a school friends’ particularly old-fashioned Dad. This was his order:

“We’ll have 4 McDonalds, and we are sitting over there, in the window’.

I have never been so mortified. He had broken a very serious code. He had messed with the sanctity of the McDonalds experience, and he was definitely not cool! But the Big Mac tasted the same.

Time for a Factoid:

Every single day. According to NBC News, McDonalds uses more than 3.4 billion pounds of U.S.-grown potatoes every year. They’re the biggest buyer of potatoes in the entire world (Ref: https://www.tasteofhome.com/article/the-most-popular-fast-food-menu-item-of-all-time/)

A brief canvas of the office produced this story: My colleague, who shall remain nameless, once nearly choked whilst in the back of her mum’s people carrier, when desperately trying to achieve the last cube of ice from the bottom of a McDonalds take away cup. Everyone has a McDonalds story. Oh, silly April. (Ooops).

Fast-food? Was this concept invented by McDonalds? I would argue, yes it was. Just 3 minutes from point of sale, to ketchup on your tie/t-shirt/pyjamas/overalls, spawning a revolution in how we approach food on demand, with countless other businesses launching on the back of it. Burger King, KFC, and on and on. But none have quite come close to the original.

Even if you have never been to McDonalds, you know of it, you know exactly what it is and what it offers, and you know that it’s there if all else fails, or if you finally let your guard down and embrace the inevitable. Even without eating one, McDonalds is part of your world, physically, commercially, geographically, historically, presently, topically, and often metaphorically.

“Your brand is the single most important investment you can make in your business.”

– Steve Forbes

Here at artisan we work hard to develop a clear brand message for our clients, that resonates with their target audience and works across all marketing platforms and sales channels, both visually and verbally. Your brand needs to tell your story and convey the ethos of your product/service/solution. Whether we are creating a logo to represent your business, producing internal communications literature, working on your social strategy or designing large format signage, we aim to carry your brand message through consistently, creatively and effectively, and that is why our clients come back to us for ongoing support in their marketing strategy. We can’t claim to have branded McDonalds, but it’s always nice to recognise a good example of success! ‘We’re loving it!’.

Right, I’m off for a salad and good think about my life choices, but Ronald, I know where you are.

All views are my own.

Blake (on a diet).

Business Manager @ artisan Creative (not a fast-food restaurant).