Not Every Brand is a Lifestyle Brand

David Kiley

McDonald’s move to recruit rap impresarios/designers like Russell Simmons, Damon Dash and mainstream tastemaker Tommy Hilfiger to submit ideas for new uniforms for its employees isn’t a terrible idea. Though I can’t help wondering if that is what Hilfiger wants to be known for.
What is a little thought provoking is a quote from Steve Stoute, founder and chief creative officer of Translation Consulting and Brand Imaging, New York in the Advertising Age story about the effort. Stoute, who has been engaged by McDonald’s to consult on the uniform project and counts Verizon and Yahoo among his clients says about the uniform effort: “It’s a very important aspect of employee pride. McDonald’s has evolved and become a lifestyle brand ... since it now is relevant to our lifestyle, let’s go one step further and make its employees relevant to our lifestyle as well.”
Call me a cynic, but just how is McDonald’s a “lifestyle brand?” The most obvious answer is that if a person stops at McDonald’s to eat every day or nearly every day for one of their meals, I suppose eating at McDonald’s is literally part of their lifestyle. But does that make McDonald’s a lifestyle brand? Or does it simply define an individual as having an unhealthy lifestyle?
I’m not here to bash McDonald’s. But I do want to point out that not every brand is a lifestyle brand. Those that seem obviously lifestyle brands to me include: Harley Davidson, Ralph Lauren, Martha Stewart, Ikea, RocaWear, Porsche, MINI, Zara, Old Navy. I tag these brands as “lifestyle” brands because they are ones people want to wear and be identified with. MINI not only sells daily mobility, but an extensive list of apparel and accessories. Ditto Harley. Roca-Wear involves not only clothing and now sneakers, but music, vodka, a magazine and films. With Ikea and Old Navy, customers go back again and again, and it’s easy to tell when someone has been dressed at Old Navy or furnished by Ikea.
But back to McDonald’s. I know kids are into the toys. But do people by and large want to be identified with eating fast food day-to-day as a brand badge? Not in my neighborhood. McDonald’s is firing on all cylinders to give its brand an air of acceptability and even hipness. It wants McDonald’s to become a more “wearable” brand, hence its announcement last month that is expanding the McKids line of apparel and home furnishings. The question is whether the fast fooder can really pull this off. No one has to apologize or make excuses for wearing a MINI jacket or MINI driving shoes while driving a perky MINI Cooper. No one has to make excuses for coordinating dishes and place settings, as well as bathroom tile and towels per Martha’s advice. But owning up to a “McDonald’s lifestyle” as a badge of honor seems like putting too much on a brand that is really about buying food fast when you are on the go rather than taking time to better plan and execute what is going into one’s mouth and stomach. Can a McLifestyle really be a good thing? Good trick if they can pull that off.