The Designer’s Notebook

Rebranding McDonald’s



Today I went to McDonald’s in Red Deer for the first time since an emergency stop on the I15 in Salt Lake in 2003, which was arguably one of the most terrifying experiences of my life – an American McDonald’s – I shudder at the thought even now. It was pretty scary almost hitting a herd of Elk or Moose or something near Delburne in 2005, but Salt Lake was life changing terror.

But I digress… It has been nearly 7 years since my last mono et mono with Ronald. A birthday party drew us today. I was utterly shocked. The restaurant, Red Deer’s first, looked more like Earl’s than McD’s – wood trim on  everything, new booths, even easy chairs and a fireplace! This place has gone uptown! New menu boards tout a myriad of new healthy products – photos of grilled chicken and salad have replaced the Quarter Pounder and the Big Mac.

Then we had the birthday party, and we even had a personal server! Super fun – terrific Playland! Wow! This is clearly not the McDonald’s I remember. Is it? Then the food came for the kids: same happy meal (with milk and apples for an option, mind you). Same branded toys trying to imprint on the kids.

In the end the children all ate the same high calorie, high sodium fat bombs I enjoyed as a child, and they’ll hopefully be saved by their blazing metabolisms the same as I once was. Truthfully, this doesn’t bug me too much, we hardly go for hamburgers, and is it was terrific to get out with friends.

Let’s look at the Re-brand:

  • All the work put into sprucing up the place was incredible for first impressions. It raised expectations and even impressed.
  • The new menu looked great – like a salad bar – but it was hard to read and find things.
  • The service was really good – I had three staff help me with nutrition information, and the personal server was a nice touch.
  • I already know their HR policies are very good. People are pretty well taken care of.

So what? Will I be back to see Ronald?

  • The food was the same. Cheeseburger – same, Fries – same. It was almost weird to see all the fancy woodwork in a slimy burger joint. I didn’t see anyone eating salad or a grilled chicken anything. I’m not a big fan anyway, so the upgrades to the building don’ t mean a lot to me. I won’t be back much more than I usually would.

I have a personal theory about the McDonald’s brand. It’s tied forever to the lo-cost, high calorie hamburger. The brand itself has become the whipping boy for all the health food nuts in the world and is tied forever to the hatred of fast food. McDonald’s itself enjoys healthy margins selling high calorie fast food rather than the lo-margin healthy options because that’s their business niche. All the wood paneling in the world cannot change these opinions. To re-brand, McDonald’s has to re-invent itself in a totally new way… perhaps even a new name. The hamburger is the millstone they have to shed, not dirty floors or smelly cashiers.

What to learn from this

Anyone running a business is hopefully aware of their brand – the feeling the people have when they think about their company, the products, people, service, price – it all matters. To understand what we are to our customers, we need to understand what they really want from us. If they really just want a cheap hamburger, trying to make a cheap hamburger into prime rib only confuses the customers we serve. If we re-brand, we need to look at what we really are today and then work toward what we want to be. The hard truth might be that we are in control of a brand that’s like the Titanic – supposedly unsinkable and very hard to steer. Until we accept what needs to be done to avoid icebergs, we are destined to sink.

So look at your company from the outside. Find out what people expect when they call you, then give the terrific receptionist a raise. Find the tech who can fix anything and buy him lunch. Find out if people really hate the purple logo that your great-grandmother loved. Brand from the outside in.Then treat yourself to a hamburger. Not some silly grilled chicken thing, get the Big Mac – it’s what you really wanted anyway.

Let’s get started!

We’d love to talk with you about your company and where you want to take it.