McDonald’s Management Needs Help. Here’s What Happened When I Offered Some.

Like many people, I live near a McDonald’s restaurant. I see it every day. It’s been here for over 25 years, but a couple of years ago, it was remodeled, inside and outside. The new façade and interior, while not stylish, are at least modern, with wallpaper that attempts to be artsy, and a new service counter with digital displays of menu items and the number of the order that’s ready for pick-up. But the most iconic feature of the restaurant – and thousands of other McDonald’s around the planet – is still in place. The “Golden Arches” stand above the restaurant proclaiming that over some number of billions of something have been sold. Below it is an illuminated sign advertizing the current special item, stated in terminology negotiated between the management and the employee who climbs an extension ladder to place the letters on the sign.

The “Golden Arches” symbol is indeed iconic. It is also archaic. And utterly lacking in class. If you want to give a trendy neighborhood the look of its pre-trendy past, find a corner, plant a McDonald’s on it, and grow a 25 foot tall “M.” Your neighborhood will acquire instant proletariat caché.

The tradition of large gaudy signs reflects an earlier time when “fast food” was take-out food, and take-out food was sometimes spur of the moment or where’s a place to stop on the highway food. Like a church spire or lighthouse, the golden arches looming above the horizon was a beacon to newly converted customers. Today, anyone with a computer, tablet, or smartphone can locate any McDonald’s on Earth and download the directions to get there. And since all of McD’s competitors have similar vulgar signage – no longer out of competitive necessity, but out of habit – McDonald’s big signs give it no advantage. And, as I just stated, people who want to find a McDonalds don’t need a light in sky, just a digital device.

This brings me to my own effort to simultaneously improve McDonald’s imaging and class up my neighborhood. First, here’s an example of what I see every day.













All over the world, McDonald’s has installed digital displays inside its customer service area. The information about old and new items, breakfast and lunch items, seasonal and special items, and its every increasing array of beverages is presented the way you might see them on a big screen monitor: digital, dynamic, and contemporary.

Why not use this same kind of technology for the outside advertising? I think that this would be a good idea? So, I tried to bring this idea to the attention of McDonald’s corporate management in the person of Mike Andres, President of McDonald’s USA based in Oakbrook, Illinois.

Here’s the letter I sent to Mr. Andres. (Why I used snailmail is another story of wasted time. But I don’t think the NSA can find the email addresses of McD’s execs.)

October 22, 2014

Mr. Mike Andres

President, McDonald’s USA

 Dear Mr. Andres:

 I am writing to suggest a useful change in the way McDonald’s presents itself to its current and potential customers.

 McDonald’s is experiencing a crisis. It is not only a financial crisis. It is also a crisis in identity as a late-twentieth-century innovator in take-out foods tries to retain its leadership in a complex twenty-first-century “good fast food” marketplace.

 I want to offer a small suggestion. Every day, when I look out of my front window, I see the iconic McDonald’s sign – the big “M” that forms the “Golden Arches.” Below the name is the slogan “_ billion sold.” Below that is a letter board when an employee on a ladder places by hand the letters that spell out the current special. (See the photo below.)

 This sign is iconic. It is also obsolete. As McDonald’s modernizes its menus and interior displays and ordering and serving system, the mid-20th century sign is completely out of place in the 21st century. The slogan, which boasts of the number of burgers (?) sold, is irrelevant in a world of Big Macs, various chicken sandwiches, wraps, salads, myriad breakfast items, and featured beverages and coffee drinks. Also, when the switch from breakfast to lunch/dinner menus is accomplished inside the store by changing the images on a digital screen, it is ludicrous that a person should place letters on a marquee by hand.

 Why not install a digital cube that can display various images – including different images on each of the four visible sides if desired? The Golden Arches can be visible at all times combined or interspersed with images of and information about menu items, specials, etc. (and also information about local community events). Contemporary digital technology can make a visual impact that will help current and potential customers identify McDonald’s with the contemporary world, not the honored past.

 I am not suggesting the gaudiness of Time Square, the Las Vegas strip, or the Tokyo Ginza. However, the kind of technology that I am referring to can project a tasteful yet captivating image of McDonald’s in the 21st century.

 Yours Truly,

 William Settles

Now, I’m a realist. I figured that the odds were strongly against McDonald’s Corporation adopting my idea. I expected that at best I’d get a “thank you” letter and a guarantee that my suggestion would be added to the mountain of ideas submitted by well-intentioned members of the public.

Here’s what I got.


















Here’s the scenario that I deduce: the McD’s USA President’s assistant saw the letter and, having determined that it was otherwise harmless, deemed it a customer complaint. Thus, it was sent to the department that handles customer complaints, where the letter was skimmed by a worker whose job is to get stuff from the inbox to the outbox as quickly as possible. The intermediate step is probably a computer program with fields for the complainant’s name and address, the nature of the complaint and the store about which the customer complained. My name and address were on the envelope. I didn’t indicate a particular store, because it wasn’t relevant. And there was nothing to put in the “nature of the complaint” field. (Can you leave it blank or did the employee have to make up something?) So I got the standard form letter from “David” whose name the computer kindly signed.

I rarely eat at McDonald’s. But I do still like their fries (although they are hardly the best to be had, just the most convenient.) I also like the shakes and the occasional chicken sandwich (crispy, sorry) and the chicken-chili wrap. But mostly I skip McD’s in favor of better tasting, healthier, and more interesting food. But I find their problems interesting. They are having a hard time maintaining their strong position in the fast food market and it’s not evident that they have a clear idea of what strategy to pursue. They seem to be trying out a lot of ideas, few of which have any result other than angering their franchisers. They could use some good pointers to the path of profitable innovation.

I suspect that somewhere a bright (probably young), creative person will come up with the concept that will move McDonald’s back into leadership of their industry. Perhaps she will find a way to get an interview with the corporate boss. Perhaps she’ll hack her way into the file that contains his email address or figure out which of her acquaintances is six degrees of separation from him. Failing at that, she might hand-deliver her proposal to Oakbrook, reluctantly entrusting it to the security guard at the main reception desk. Or, she might send it via the US Mail. In either of the last two cases, however brilliant her proposal and however likely that it would save McD’s bacon, it’s more likely that she’ll get a nonsequiturial and unintentionally ironic letter from a computer named “David.”


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