McMarketing: McDonald’s Marketing And Advertising Hits And Pits

McDonald’s is one of the most well known fast food brands in the world because of its comprehensive approach to advertising and marketing. The food and beverage company uses a combination of digital, print, and TV ads to communicate their product offering, which appeals to a large audience. With McDonald’s iconic Golden Arches and mascot, Ronald McDonald, their company successfully differentiates their brand from competitors.

It’s not good for you but every now and then, we all hit the drive thru for something quick and easy. The golden arches are the most recognized brand in the United States, if not the world. When my family moved from Brooklyn to St. Louis, my three-year old son saw the St. Louis arch and yelled, “McDonald’s!”

I asked him what we should order and he replied, “a Burger King!”

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The marketing McDonald’s did on children’s programming had my two kids brainwashed long before my youngest son could even talk. When a McDonald’s commercial came on the TV, it might as well have been Spongebob due to the transfixed state both my kids would enter. In fact, once Happy Meals featured Spongebob, we had to eat there twice a day so the kids could collect each and every piece of brightly colored plastic from China. I often wonder what the Chinese think of the toys they produce for the west. In the morning they package Cello sponges for the kitchen and in the afternoon, sponges that live in a pineapple under the sea.

Say what you will about McDonald’s, they are smart, savvy marketers of their poisonous products. Good thing they chose to sell food and not bags of broken glass and sulfuric acid squirt guns! Maybe I shouldn’t give them ideas. Sometimes it just gets a bit too weird.

This image will give me nightmares forever. Now I’ll have to sleep with my hands and feet under the covers so baby Ronald doesn’t bite off my fingers and toes while I sleep! 

I have no idea why or from where but it’ll keep those nightmares coming. Maybe it’s an ad for fresh milk?

Clowning Around With Customer Service

I once had the pleasure of meeting one of the McDonald’s Corporation executives who worked in the department that planned counter and drive thru innovation. He was a smart, well-spoken man who had come up through the ranks, as do many corporate executives. One day flipping slabs of meat and the next, ordering around slabs of meat, so to speak.

He was speaking to an audience of creatives and marketing personnel about how his company explores the evolving customer base and solves the challenges. Sure, technology keeps advancing but, just the same, the public grows stupider, too. If you doubt that statement, listen to people order a simple burger next time you are standing in line. It’s like asking Stephen Hawking to solve an immense calculus problem in his head, except he can do it in less than ten minutes. As customers lose their ability to think quickly when ordering a simple meal by a number tied to a large picture of what it represents.

The McGentleman showed video of experiments in both drive-thru creation and in-store ordering situations. In a large warehouse, crisscrossed with white grid lines on a black floor and walls, much like the holodeck of the starship Enterprise, or, if you aren’t a nerd, the game grid in Tron. Cardboard boxes were laid out to simulate a drive-thru space and walls and actual cars were driven in to test traffic flow, service time and the number of fiery crashes that would occur when the herds converge on a restaurant.

Viewing the video, I was struck that the testing was probably more intensive than what NASA had done with the space shuttles. If you think about it, McDonald’s was around long before the space shuttle and has outlived it. Chances are there will be Big Macs on the International Space Station long before the United States has another launch vehicle able to dock there.

The cardboard boxes would be moved to form two or three lanes and the flow tests continued until they found the best solution with the least amount of deaths.

Moving inside, the flow at the counter with an eye to the ease of ordering was the challenge. The register used by all fast food places, also known as the POS (Point of Sale), is laid out in a fairly simple fashion. All menu items present and then sub menus to upsize, add items, remove items, figure in discounts for the out-of-date coupons senior citizens scream about having honored and a delete button for when people change their mind two or three times while trying to order from an array of three basic burgers.

Having stood on both sides of the counter at times in my life, I can attest that having a human to regulate the ordering process is essential and will never change. Although McDonald’s did try to entertain the notion of POS ordering system a customer could do by themselves, I gather the amount of mistakes made by illiterates having to push buttons with a number from one to ten was just too much and I have yet to see the proposed technological advance put in place.

A clever use of food to advertise McDonald’s “Wi-Fry.” Do you want to eat greasy food while typing on your laptop? It don’t come off so easy, folks!

A public service ad to promote how a balanced diet is good for breast-feeding mothers and their babies. I’d like to thank the McDonald’s Corporation for not using baby Ronald… or adult Ronald!

I always appreciate when a creative sees something unusual in the usual. The ad for McDonald’s coffee balances on the bean resembling a burger, albeit a thousand year-old, mummified burger.

There’s something sadistic about this, and how many customers will think the sandwich is made from goldfish?

She won’t be “lovin’ it” when stalker Ronald grabs her and turns her into burger meat.

I can hardly wait for my next trip to McDonald’s to make me fish-eyed for life!

McDonald’s is the leader in environmental advertising. Working with engineers, they have created some very impressive advertising.

How cool is this engineered piece? Of course, after noon, you’re stuck with a watch!

I wonder who had the job of scooping the beans out every day, and what they did with them? Maybe there was a reason the coffee was free?

Fries to the heavens! I wonder if the beams blinded any pilots?

Does this need to be watered?

How about this one? Dead fresh carrots kind of negates the message.

McBribery is a wonderful thing! Why not use it?

I love this technique. It may take a minute for the viewer to identify the message but that’s more time spent on the brand, which seems under represented in this case.

Again, this may take a moment to get but all the while, you see the brand.

McDonald’s is known for generous altruism. In this case, a public service against drunk driving. Besides, the drunks will be McThrowing up in the back of the cab!


I’ve traveled all over the United States and odd parts of the world and have been amazed that while each McDonald’s, corporately owned or run as a franchise, sticks to the handbook of rules and ethics, yet veers on menu items depending on the local cuisine and population. While in Newark, New Jersey, I was delighted to find they served McBean Pie. I’ve heard of other locations that serve Pizza, McWine (France), McBeer (Germany) and some of the oddest things in Japan and Mexico. The McLobster Roll (viewed by many as a menu item failure), served seasonally in New England, is actually quite tasty and made from real lobster, as opposed to the McRib Sandwich that is pressed mystery meat formed to look like a slab of ribs on the bone but there are no bones. Frightening but evily delish!

The McLobster Roll still sells well in New England as most lobster rolls are nine dollars.

The infamous McRib sandwich that only appears every couple of years for a month and then retreats into history.

Is it more embarrassing to have to wear this hat while taking orders or ordering from someone forced to wear this hat?

McZpacho showed up on menus in Spain. Can such a McDish compete with such a national culinary staple?

McPizza just couldn’t cut it on the market. It was reported to be tasteless, soggy and McAwful.

Some concoctions from Japan. The McDonald’s menu selections change often and just get weirder and larger. Wish I lived there!

If you have a “Yen” for a sausage, the Mega Sausage is available in Japan. Unfortunately, it’s a breakfast item, so get up early!

I’m surprised the Japanese aren’t all the size of Sumo wrestlers with menu items like these. I wish they had them in America!

Cheese McKatsu sandwich, a fried pork sandwich stuffed with cheese (although I’ve never had Katsu with cheese). Again, the McDonald’s people need to import these to America!

The McEbi Filet-o, a fried shrimp sandwich. In Hong Kong, it’s known as the McShrimp Burger. Here it would be known as, “in my belly!”

Ach du lieber Gott! McBeer in Germany? Can a country famous for brewing for over a thousand years stomach beer from a tap on the soda machine?

McArabia? What internationally inept marketing tool came up with this name? The McArabia is made with grilled chicken or grilled kofta (beef with spices) and comes with lettuce, tomatoes, onions, garlic mayonnaise and is wrapped in an “Arabic style” pita bread. I’m surprised McDonalds didn’t call it “The Aladdin.”

The Chicken McCurry Pan. It starts off with a rectangle dish made out of dough and is topped with a tomato-curry sauce, spiced with thyme, basil, oregano, chicken, bell peppers, and cheese. Why are we stuck with chicken and burgers when things like this are available?

Want to see more McDishes available throughout the world? See more…


McDonald’s is widely recognized as being a leader in projecting its brand through marketing and advertising. While McDonald’s uses many agencies for co-op advertising, Leo Burnett Worldwide is their biggest agency of record. Burnett, known for innovative advertising, has led McDonald’s into the top spot for influential ads.

Although several examples of foreign ads were used here, this article has some great foreign ads for McDonald’s including a nine-minute mini drama on working at McDonald’s. The Japanese “hipster” video will just cause you to freak!


No matter how much you try and how good your ads are, it’s the public who will decide in the end. These are some failed products “Mickey D’s” (as they tried to brand it for the “urban” customer) just can’t live down.

If you’re going to make a commercial, be ready to have it parodied. Like the iconic Ronald, sometimes even parody, often known as the sincerest form of flattery, can be cruel. But even bad press is, as many ad execs will tell you, good press.

Again, this ad was parodied many times over.

While there’s no parody for this 1980s commercial starring a young, unknown Jason Alexander, there should be.

Naturally, there have been menu items that just didn’t sell well, for one reason or another. Let me see them!


Certainly there are many iconic brands that have ads, jingles and packaging that people will always remember and cherish as parts of their childhoods and lives. That’s quite a power, especially from a brand that is blamed for major obesity in America. Whether you believe that or not, McDonald’s has succeeded at what many tyrants and madmen have tried throughout history and failed – they conquered every part of the globe and are here to stay. All bow down to Emperor Ronald…

15 Facts About McDonalds That Will Blow Your Mind…

What are your thoughts on this iconic branding? How many of these outrageous ads or products have you seen in your area? Use the comment section to fill us in your McXperiences.


This article is originally published on May 09, 2012, and updated on Jan 25, 2023.
Speider Schneider is a former member of The Usual Gang of Idiots at MAD Magazine, “among other professional embarrassments and failures.” He currently writes for local newspapers, blogs and other web content and has designed products for Disney/Pixar, Warner Bros., Harley-Davidson, ESPN, Mattel, DC and Marvel Comics, Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon among other notable companies. Speider is a former member of the board for the Graphic Artists Guild, co-chair of the GAG Professional Practices Committee and a former board member of the Society of Illustrators. He also continues to speak at art schools across the United States on business and professional practices. Follow him on Twitter @speider.

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