The Big Mac, often considered the quintessential hamburger. Delivered within minutes and if needs be consumed in seconds, this burger is the flagship meal of McDonalds, the biggest global restaurant chain out there. But let’s be frank here, not only is the food unhealthy, it is consumed by children, thanks to great marketing, by one half of adults who don’t care for their health and by another half who pitch from 2am onwards after a night of heavy drinking. Either way you look at it, those golden arches draw you in. But why? Why eat something you know has been cheaply produced? Well, taste I would imagine, and the perceived notion that it is a quality product on some level. Most of us who have ever had McDonalds and kept the food overnight in a fridge to be consumed the next day have seen how poor in quality these products actually are. Heck, eat your burger and fries after an hour and you’ll bite into stiff fries and a hamburger that heat cannot save. It’s fast food down to the D, made fast and meant to be eaten fast. The behemoth that is the McDonald’s Corporation might be known for being capitalism personified, but it had humble beginnings, heartfelt beginnings, and it was born from a need to give people quality food in a swift amount of time. Readers of the blog, welcome to another edition of Brand Origins.
The Brothers & Ray
Unless you’ve watched the 2016 Michael Keaton movie, The Founder, or you have an interest in the history of McDonalds, you may not know that the first restaurant was opened in 1940 by two brothers, Richard and Maurice McDonald. Their strong work ethic and dedication to giving their customers quality hamburgers caught the attention of Ray. A Kroc, a travelling salesman at the time and supplier of milkshake machines. At that point neither party knew about the eventual outcome that would ensue. The operation that the brothers were running caught the attention of Kroc when he noted a large delivery of milkshake machines, prompting him to check out what they were up to. What he saw blew his mind – a standardised process of production and a speedy delivery of a quality product. Kroc wanted to be in business with the brothers and he fought tooth and nail to turn the business into a franchise, but he also clashed with the brothers who insisted on vetting every change he made. In the end, he bought them out for what today would be considered complete chump-change. But Kroc didn’t just buy them out with a $2.7 million lump sum, he also went back on his word to give them a 1% annual royalty.
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Today McDonalds operates in 120 countries and serves about 68 million people daily. More than 36 000 restaurants employing over 370 000 people are in operation. While hamburgers remain the company’s biggest commodity, the company has shown the will to evolve by expanding its range of products to include healthier alternatives such as salads, fish and smoothies. Like any chain looking to appeal to its customers, it has customised its menus according to each country. Naturally there’s the ever-present Big Mac, but depending on where you are, you’ll find the restaurant catering to the taste of the people its serving. In Spain you can try the Grand Extreme Bacon Burger. The name alone makes me salivate and get a load of this: two quarter-pounder patties topped with Applewood smoked bacon (yummy!), Gouda cheese, slivered onions and McBacon sauce. That’s enough to make your forgo any weight loss aspirations! If you’re in India, look out for the Chicken Maharaj Mac. This delectable number is almost like the Big Mac except the beef’s been replaced by two chicken patties and they’re joined by habanero sauce and sizzling jalapenos. Find yourself in Singapore and you can ignite those taste buds and widen that waist if you don’t hit the treadmill afterwards with the Chicken Curry Breakfast Burger.
On Again, Off Again
This would certainly be one way to describe the relationship the public has had with this chain restaurant. Over the years various accusations have been levelled against the company. The term “McJob” was added to the Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary in 2003 as a buzzword implying low-paid, unskilled work with little prospects or benefits or security. McDonalds has worked hard to eradicate this perception, going to far as to run TV ads in Ireland with the following tagline: Would you like a career with that? The implication being that their jobs have good prospects, and they do. Stick it out and show form and you could be a store manager and more. In 2004 Morgan Spurlock’s documentary, Super Size Me, took a real hit at the chain restaurant when he documented what happened to his health within just a month of eating McDonalds three times a day. Within 6 weeks of the film’s release, McDonalds removed the Super Size option from the menu. Amidst it all, the company has marched on and a large part of its strategy has been its penetration of third world countries. Environmental accusations, animal welfare standards and dodgy tax manoeuvres have also come to the fore.
McDonalds isn’t going to disappear overnight. Their food tastes good and they’ve got their fingers on the pulse of technology and what the customers want. I think the best way to treat McDonalds is as one would treat alcohol, to consume it with discretion and to not eat their food daily.