Friday, January 18, 2013

The evolution of Ronald McDonald

The latest ad from a well-known restaurateur focuses on the growers who supply the controversial meal peddler with one of its fresh, seasonal ingredients. That would be a dog-bites-man story if the restaurateur weren’t named McDonald’s.

Viewers who tuned into Sunday’s broadcast of the Golden Globes saw the family that owns a Michigan orchard talk about the four varieties of apples they grow for McDonald’s. The apples are sold in slices by the fast-food giant as an alternative to French fries.

The new commercial is part of a campaign that McDonald’s began awhile back to showcase the wholesomeness of its ingredients. The kick-off was a spot that featured one of the farmers who grow potatoes for the chain’s French fries.

The objective is to show that the route from farm to McDonald’s kitchens is a short and straight one, a contradiction of the notion that it’s the world’s leading purveyor of factory food. The campaign is also a big concession to consumers’ demands for transparency about what they’re being sold in groceries and restaurants.

It’s hardly the chain’s only effort in that regard. In the U.K., consumers were invited to stroll through the kitchens of McDonald’s units to see how their food was being prepared. On this side of the pond, the chain has invited mommy bloggers to get a similar first-hand view and spread the word.

Five years ago, we never would have suspected such a thing from the Golden Arches. But the multi-billion-dollar behemoth is doing some surprising things. Even casual industry-observers know the brand has zealously protected the integrity of its brand, both by suing any commercial entity with a remotely similar name (think Molly McButter) and by ensuring the McDonald’s name is never compromised. You can drink Coke or Coca-Cola, but you can only order from a McDonald’s.

Or at least until now. To celebrate the 40th anniversary of McDonald’s entry into Australia, the chain is temporarily changing the name of 13 restaurants Down Under to Macca’s, the brand’s nickname there.

It’s not the same old McDonald’s. Just a smarter one.

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