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Oak Brook, Ilinois, USA
Despite the ubiquity of the “golden arches” and the feeling that they have always been part of British culture, easily spotted on every high street, McDonald’s has actually only been in the UK since the mid-1970s. There are now more than 1250 restaurants in Britain and in excess of 36,000 globally.
The fast-food chain was founded in California in 1940 by two brothers Dick and “Mac” McDonald. The first McDonald’s to feature the ‘golden arches’ was opened in 1953 in Phoenix. In the same year, milkshake salesman Ray Kroc opened the first McDonald’s branded franchise; Kroc eventually bought the siblings out in 1961 for $2.7m.
To mark Kroc’s purchase of the McDonald brothers’ share in the brand in 1963, the billionth hamburger was sold live on prime-time TV. Eleven years later, in 1974, the first McDonald’s restaurant opened its doors in the UK, in London’s Woolwich. By 1988 the brand had a presence on every continent of the world, recording global sales of $16bn.
Constant, relentless, innovation has been central to McDonald’s success. In the US it introduced the Filet-o-Fish in 1962, the Big Mac in 1968, “drive-thru” restaurants in 1975, the breakfast menu in 1977 and the McFlurry in 1998.
Elsewhere, McDonald’s “glocal” approach was much in evidence; even though its innovations are often rolled out globally, they are tailored in a way that suits the local market. For instance, in the UK in 1999 the brand launched a raft of world menus, based on food from countries such as Italy, India and China. However, it did this in a way that “interpreted” the foods, and promoted them in a distinctly British style, adding its now-trademark McDonald’s tone.
Indeed, from an early stage, Kroc has spoken out about the vital importance of marketing and communications to the brand. He has described marketing as “just as basic to our success as the hamburger”.
In addition, the visionary entrepreneur has always understood the power of operating according to clear, consistent values, identifying those of McDonald’s as quality, service, cleanliness and value (referred to internally as QSC&V).
McDonald’s has also had a longstanding commitment to contributing positively to the communities in which it operates, long before CSR became trendy, with initiatives such as the Ronald McDonald House Charities for children, which, in the UK, was set up in 1989.
Kroc’s commitment to marketing has also received industry recognition. Branding consultancy Interbrand named McDonald’s the “world’s greatest brand” in 1999, in a study that looked at both the current strength and future potential of top brands. Its entry on McDonald’s stated: “Nothing compares with McDonald's for the power of a branding idea, the skill of its execution, and the longevity and width of its appeal.”
In the same year, Campaign named the brand Advertiser of the Year for its consistently high-quality work. More recently, the chain was also named as the Cannes Lions Creative Marketer of the Year in 2014.
Among the feats McDonald’s has achieved in its marketing is ensuring that, despite being a huge global corporation, its UK advertising is known for its humanity, warmth and humour. This has undoubtedly been the driving force behind its acceptance on the high street and place in British culture.
Nevertheless, there have been some rocky times. In the early noughties, sales slumped, and the double whammy of journalist Eric Schlosser’s book Fast Food Nation, and then Morgan Spurlock’s documentary Super Size Me, harmed perceptions of the brand further.
In the UK, a turnaround plan that kicked off in 2006 revitalised McDonald’s fortunes. Product changes included switching to Rainforest Alliance-certified coffee, organic milk and free-range eggs and the introduction of salads, fruit bags and deli sandwiches.
In addition, McDonald’s was the first fast-food brand to publish a complete ingredients-listing and detailed nutritional analysis of all its products. To highlight these changes to consumers, its marketing has focused more on the provenance and quality of its ingredients, such as the 2009 “Big nothing” ad.
Displaying a new confidence after years of defensiveness, McDonald’s began to confront its critics head-on, with initiatives such as the transparency site makeupyourownmind.co.uk. Launched in the UK in 2006, it gave members of the public the chance to get answers about anything concerning them about the chain.
A wholesale in-store revamp and an early move into providing free wi-fi for customers in 2007 also helped to modernise the brand.
A turnaround programme in the US is also under way. Led by chief executive and former marketer Steve Easterbrook, who had led the UK revitalisation effort, it is beginning to bear fruit. At the end of 2015, McDonald’s US recorded its first quarterly increase in sales in two years.
As a US fast-food giant, McDonald’s will always have its detractors, be it self-appointed gourmands, anti-globalisation protesters, or anti-obesity campaigners.
However, over the years the chain has strived to convince its consumers that it has their best interests at heart and is part of the social fabric of their lives. This message was summed up perfectly by its 2014 ad campaign to mark its 40th anniversary in the UK, intended to remind people of McDonald’s presence in the background of many moments throughout their lives.
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2111 McDonald's Drive, Oak Brook, IL 60523
Silvia Lagnado Executive vice-president, global chief marketing officer
Alistair Macrow Senior vice-president - chief marketing officer
Emily Somers Vice-president marketing & food development
Steve Hill Head of marketing – brand & experience
Steven Howells Head of marketing – food & beverage