Branding Beat - Cut Through the Noise

McDonald’s Gets a Brand Image Overhaul: Will Customers Start Lovin’ It?

Remember the last time you ate at McDonald’s? I don’t. And I’m not talking about hitting up the drive-thru at 2 a.m.—I mean physically walking in, ordering, sitting down, and enjoying a meal. In all honesty, I can’t remember doing so in the last few years, and the fact that more and more people are sharing that sentiment probably doesn’t sit too well with the powers that be at the house that Ronald built. So, America’s favorite Happy Meal pushers have decided to bring their monolithic brand into the now. McDonald’s is finally getting an image overhaul!



By 2015, McDonald’s plans to have up to 14,000 of its U.S. locations redesigned to provide a more relaxed and inviting environment for customers, says a recent article from USA Today. It’s a long-term project that will cost the brand upwards of $1 billion. The goal, of course, is to move away from the get-‘em-their-food-and-get-‘em-out style of customer service in favor of something more in tune with what upscale competitors currently offer.

The specifics of the redesign are actually fairly impressive; this isn’t just a new coat of paint we’re talking about. From the outside in, get ready to experience a whole new McD’s. Those bright red roofs that direct our attention away from traffic every time we pass by will now feature a more contemporary design; they’ll also be adorned with horizontal half-arches as part of the brand’s new motif. Inside, customers will find several new reasons to stay and relax: finished wood tables instead of the fiberglass originals; flat-screen TVs; lounge chairs; muted color-schemes to replace the lurid reds and yellows. In short, it’s a whole new look, and one that McDonald’s undoubtedly believes will help them compete with classier fast-food chains. The popularity of brands like Panera and Starbucks is the obvious inspiration for moving ahead with the overhaul.

I’ll tell you one thing: if McDonald’s offered the kind of casual yet comfortable atmosphere that those classier eateries currently provide customers, I’d be more apt to sit down and stay for a bit. Of course, the next question would be as to whether or not their food will see any improvement over the next few years. Luckily, the company says that they’re planning to make enhancements in that regard as well: “McDonald’s…will continue expanding its food and beverage menu, with plans to add even more upscale munchies. The chain no longer wants to rush you in and out. Now it wants you to stick around and tap into free Wi-Fi service as you sip a cappuccino or smoothie while having a Snack Wrap.”

Sounds to me like someone is vying for the Starbucks and Caribou Coffee crowd. So, if nothing else, McD’s gets props for its ambition! To be honest, I think they’ll see some success with this whole ordeal. When passersby start seeing these newly modeled stores during their lunch break, it’s hard to imagine curiosity not getting the better of them. They’ll tell their friends, those friends will tell others, and so on and so forth. In short, the McDonald’s reign will likely continue well into the 21st century. It’s a wise move. Then again, an even wiser move would have been to simply make the McRib a permanent menu item.

What are your thoughts? Is an image overhaul exactly what the golden arches need to stay relevant to consumers? Want the McRib to be a mainstay? Voice your concerns below.


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  1. Mandy Kilinskis

    I’m excited for the McDonald’s upgrade! I’m with you, Joe, I haven’t been inside of one to sit down and eat in years. This is definitely step forward to keep them competition in the fast food market – though I feel that being a chain that has offered free WiFi for a while now definitely helped.

    Still, I don’t see myself abandoning Starbucks, Panera, or Caribou until the quality and diversity of McDonald’s menu goes up.

    • Joseph Giorgi

      True, they’ve offered WiFi access for quite some time, but I’m glad they’re finally taking things a step further. A revamp is long overdue.

      And I agree, they’d better up the ante with their menu items or this whole re-branding tactic may prove pointless.

  2. Amanda

    Great blog post Joe! We eat McDonald’s food 2-3 times per month, but it’s always through the drive thru. The last time I ate inside was maybe 2 years ago. Our local McDonald’s was completely rebuilt about 3 years ago, and as I remember, it was very nice on the inside, similar to the one in the video. It was more relaxing and modern than the old building was. I have noticed that since they rebuilt, the parking lot is always full, so there must be a lot of people enjoying the new atmostphere.

    I think the modernizing of McDonald’s is a good thing, and that it will help them stay on top of the fast food world. Our local Burger King actually just closed down and went up for sale….so clearly the new McDonalds (about 3 stores down from BK) had an impact on it….but that’s just the way it goes. We stopped going to the BK because it took forever to get your food, and we were told by someone working there they have been known to spit in the food. Yuck!

    I agree Joe–the McRib should be a permanent item, I think they’re great! =)

    • Joseph Giorgi

      Thanks, Amanda! I’m glad you brought up Burger King—I just read a couple days ago that they’re planning on re-branding themselves as well, using red and black as their new color scheme. I wonder if they’re looking to co-opt the McDonald’s brand’s use of red as a strong visual signature, now that McDonald’s is converting to neutral tones. I’ll bet BK sees it as an opportunity to finally stand out. Of course, the employees will have to stop spitting in the food first.

  3. LK

    For me at least, it will be hard to see McD’s as anything but a fast food place where I run to because they’re open till 2am, I forgot my lunch and have no time, or I’m in need of some greasy food. I can see this redesign helping younger generations who haven’t always pictured McDonald’s in a different category than a Starbucks and a Panera, but for most people, I just don’t think McDonald’s would ever come into mind when thinking of a place to sit down and enjoy a meal.

    However, I have actually been inside one of the nicer McDonald’s (to run in and order food and run out) and they definitely have improved and are more inviting.
    I think it’s a good idea for McDonald’s to do this redesign, not to even be like a Starbucks or Panera, but to just finally have an updated and cleaner look.

    • Joseph Giorgi

      Agreed. I don’t exactly see myself going out of my way to enjoy a relaxed dining experience at McD’s when their upscale competitors will likely always have better food and beverages, but I’ll at least appreciate them putting the effort into staying current and relevant. And I’ll always enjoy having them nearby when it’s 2 in the morning and I need a quick double quarter-pounder!

    • Amy

      I completely agree with your statement Lauren, “I just don’t think McDonald’s would ever come into mind when thinking of a place to sit down and enjoy a meal”. Anytime I have sat in a Mickey D’s it has always been driving on vacations for a quick pit-stop and a Big Mac. I never minded the old design with the plastic booths and Ronald starring from a mural on the wall, since my trips there were so infrequent. However, a revamped design and menu will be something to check out. An A for effort for Ronald.

  4. Jenna Markowski

    I think that the new upgrade is a great idea for their business, but for me it is still hard to shake the image of them as an in-and-out fast food joint. I’ve been inside some of the nicer McDonald’s, and the fancified version just seems silly to me. The fact that they have items on their menu for a dollar, but are trying to look like an upscale restaurant does not compute for me. I’ve especially noticed changes in their uniforms – button up shirts and ties. Is that really necessary for working at a fast food restaurant?

    • Joseph Giorgi

      True. Most of our generation will probably always see McD’s as nothing more than a quick place to stop for a burger and fries, but since they’re aiming to boost the longevity of their brand image with this whole overhaul, it does make good business sense. 🙂

      And I agree, the ties probably aren’t necessary. Heck, the employees at Panera and Starbucks aren’t even dressed that well. They just wear polos. I think. Right?

  5. Jill Tooley

    I don’t know how the general public will feel, but this is just what McDonald’s needs. Their restaurants have been dingy and cluttered for too long (plus, all of them have a sort of mess hall feel, which isn’t ideal for casual chitchat or extended internet surfing). The new design looks…classy. Never thought I’d say that about a McDonald’s, but it does. It’s not as nice as Caribou or Panera, but I think they’ll give both chains a serious run for their money when all of this takes off!

    The video you selected was interesting, too. The McDonald’s customers they interviewed seemed genuinely pleased by the changes and the people they showed in the footage seemed happy to be there. If this were any other chain trying to overhaul their image like this, I’d say it would never work. But if anyone can do it, it’s everyone’s favorite fast food chain…

    I’m with Mandy that they’ll need to step up their menu options to seriously compete, though. As an herbivore, there isn’t much for me to consume there anyway. The last time I went in a McDonald’s, the oatmeal was more like soup and the lady behind the counter was pissed when I asked for a new one. I’ve never had that problem at the other two places I mentioned…just sayin’. It’ll take a lot to oust Panera as my favorite free-Wifi-and-good-food restaurant!

    Good post, Joe! 🙂

    • Jana Quinn

      I love that you said you’re a herbivore. Now I’m imagining a brontosaurus with your head eating from a tree.

      • Amy

        Fb style ‘Like’ 🙂

    • Joseph Giorgi


      Yeah, the atmosphere at places like Panera and Caribou is tough to top, but you’ve got to give McD’s credit for at least swinging for the fences when it comes to their image. And I wholeheartedly agree with you and Mandy on the menu issue. I consider McD’s to be “number one” when it comes to fast-food breakfast items, but the rest of what they offer—in my mind—has always been so-so in terms of both quality and diversity.

      But hey, they did mention that they were planning to add more “upscale munchies,” so I guess we’ll see what they come up with.

  6. cyberneticSAM

    Really!? This is what is important? Spending over 1 million to redesign an unhealthy fast food joint? They will still be the #1 fast food place and still make the money they always have, so does it really matter if they make it more home-like? No matter what, in America alone, it doesn’t matter if McDonald’s looked like cardboard box because the masses will still flock to get their Big Macs. I guess this is also my reaction to this industry; many are giving the middle finger to the suffering population and dying world as we know, but I guess it is okay as long as we have our super-sized burgers and fries. When the world comes to end, at least everyone will be happy.

    • cyberneticSAM

      They would have impressed me more if they took a “green initiative” – get fresh veggie from local farms, solar power all of their chains, make a statement since (even internationally) there are so many!

    • Joseph Giorgi

      McDonald’s isn’t entirely self-serving. They do a lot for communities through the Ronald McDonald House Charity:

  7. JPorretto

    I kind of feel that I like McDonalds BECAUSE of the get in get out attitude. It’s FAST food isn’t it? That’s nothing to shy away from. I dislike going to the higher end places simply because it takes longer for someone to order a Sandwich, Cappucino, Cookie, Side, and a Pastry that it does for a #4 with a Coke.

    If they can keep the lines moving fast than more power to them, but if they start dragging, I’ll look elsewhere for FAST food.

    • Joseph Giorgi

      I’m sure McD’s will always be lightning-quick in serving you a #4 with a Coke. No worries. 🙂

  8. Ness

    I think there are some other things that we need by 2015 besides an updated McDonald’s — like flying cars, power lacing shoes, size-adjusting jackets, Mr. Fusion home energy converters, and hoverboards. I think that major corporations need to get to work on these immediately (c’mon Nike and Mattel!). Time is running out for the future to finally arrive! 😉

  9. Kyle

    Meh. I don’t have much of an issue with how current McDonald’s restaurants look so overhauling their stores seems a bit unnecessary in my opinion. I think focusing on improving their food should be more of a priority. Not that I don’t enjoy their food, but they should make it even better. I go to McDonald’s for the food, not for the “experience”.

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