McDonald's 50th Anniversary Invites Reflections on a Brand Icon

David Kiley

As McDonald's celebrates its 50th Anniversary this month, the mile-post in its history begs a few reflections and predictions.

McDonald's redefined eating in America. Bold statement, but true, I think. The company has succeeded largely by substituting convenience and price for quality. This was a sea-change in American eating habits. Before McDonald's came along, eating out was a real event at many suburban homes. Sure, there were car-hop joints and diners. But Moms would shake their fingers at their teens for eating junk at "joints." McDonald's brought aspirational national brand virtues to fairly low-quality (in terms of health benefits) food eaten out of home.

Some personal memories of McD's, which have all fed the brand icon: Staurday morning breakfast with my Dad oince in a while; McD's donated drink machines to schools and churches for functions and discounted beverages; Cub Scout tours of the operation behind the counter; Ronald McDonald House stays for parents with sick kids in the hospital; my Little League Baseball coach getting a big bag of burgers for us after a key win. These are all powerful brand feeders.

McDonald's also made eating out of home an aspiration of pre-schoolers through the Happy Meal, my vote for one of the top five marketing achievements of the 20th Century.

I was asked today by Reuters TV to speculate on whether McDonald's will be as successful in its next 50 years. My answer--yes. The company realizes that it has to walk a tightrope between serving the greasy stuff American--and increasingly Asian, European and Middle Eastern--consumers want to eat and indulge in, and dialing back its identity as the poster brand for childhood obesity. By proliferating salads, apples and other fruit, McDonald's is successfully creating an aura of reform in its restaurants that make them more palatable to parents. And a recent ad campaign that promotes healthier eating and physical activity is helping that aura along.

If anyone is wondering if McD's is serious about proliferating in China, remember that it signed China's top NBA export, Yao Ming, as a pitchman.

System-wide sales at McDoinald's are on the upswing after a period of decline and stagnation. The stock is up to almost $32.00 per share, about double it's two-year low of less than $16.00.

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