Brand Stories: How the McDonald’s Brand Took Over the World

McDonald’s is one of the most influential companies in history. It has fundamentally changed the way that consumers view food, service, and convenience, and the company is one of very, very few that have managed to ingrain themselves in the global culture and zeitgeist. But how did they manage to develop such a strong brand?

 

The Company

The idea that one of the founders of McDonald’s would really be named “Mac McDonald” sounds like one of those urban legends that even kids shrug off as too good to be true. But, lo and behold, Mac and his brother Dick laid the groundwork for the world’s most iconic restaurant chain as early as the 1940s. After failing out of the movie business, the pair found success in operating drive-in restaurants.

In 1948, they introduced their ‘Speedee Service System’, featuring hamburgers for just 15 cents. With their newfound success, the McDonald brothers took a leap of faith and began franchising the restaurant. Suddenly, one location became nine.

Ray Kroc, a businessman who cut his teeth in the milkshake machine business, came on as the brothers’ franchise manager in 1954. The first restaurant under the newly-formed McDonald’s System, Inc. (which would eventually become McDonald’s Corp.) was opened in Illinois in 1955, and this Kroc-owned enterprise officially acquired the rights to the McDonald brother’s company in 1961 for $2.7 million.

Expansion happened pretty rapidly from there, with the company going international in 1967 with the launch of the first Canadian and Puerto Rican restaurants.

 

The Branding

The logo is actually tied to the original architect who designed the first McDonald’s following the introduction of the Speedee Service System. Feeling that the roofline was too flat to catch drivers’ attention, Dick McDonald had architect Stanley Meson add arches on either side of the building.

The original logo included a winking “tubby chef” mascot, who can still be found incorporated into the branding of some legacy restaurants. The iconic “golden arches” associated with the store design weren’t brought into the logo until 1961, and even then they had a twist – a diagonal slant ran through the center of the arches, symbolizing the roof of the building.

Though the arches have been in place ever since, they’ve undergone several facelifts over the years. Between the 1970s and the mid-2000s, customers have seen tweaks to arch width, changes in naming hierarchy in relation to the logo, variations to the shade of red associated with the brand, shadow effects, and even experimentation with new mascots.

In 2003, McDonald’s adopted “I’m Lovin’ It” as their new corporate tagline. Soon, this too was incorporated into the logo design.

McDonald’s design is a case study in iconic brand building. It exists perfectly in the sweet spot of being simple enough that a child could easily draw it from memory, while being distinct enough to be unmistakable. Even that red, white, and yellow color palette has been seared into the minds of consumers from around the world. Finally, the simple font is pleasing to the eye and very easy to read, which is essential for a company with such a global presence.

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