The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Big Mac junks rich past
- Golden Arches dropped in bid to shed unhealthy image

London, Oct. 15: McDonald's, the fast-food chain that sells three million burgers every day in the UK alone, is taking a huge risk from today by replacing its instantly recognisable Golden Arches logo in its advertising for the first time in nearly half-a-century.

This will be replaced ' 'temporarily', McDonald's says ' in a poster blitz campaign with a golden question mark and a strapline: 'McDonald's. But not as you know it.'

Seeking to dispel the tag of junk food, the new posters have wholesome images of fresh salad, fruit pieces and a bagel smothered in cream cheese.

Industry analysts say the change has been forced on McDonald's by growing concern about obesity, especially among children, and greater public awareness of the need to eat healthier food. The firm is sending leaflets to 17 million homes, explaining its new menu.

The bottomline has been the profit figures. Pre-tax profits plummeted by 71 per cent last month when it was revealed that its 770 company-owned UK restaurants made '23.6 million in 2003, compared with '83.8 million in 2002.

McDonald's executives have been angered by the success of a hit American film, Super Size Me, which has shown director Morgan Spurlock getting unhealthier and unhealthier after living exclusively on a diet of McDonald's food for a month.

Spurlock, it has been said, has been doing to McDonald's what Michael Moore has been doing to President George W. Bush with Fahrenheit 9/11.

There is no indication that McDonald's is ready to introduce its healthier range of meals in India or any other territory. However, if the experiment with the new logo succeeds in Britain ' and everyone is agreed that the 'if' is bigger than McDonald's biggest hamburger ' it could well be extended elsewhere in the world.

The problem for McDonald's is that it now suffers from a serious image problem.

Only a decade or so ago, the opening of a McDonald's branch in eastern Europe, for example, was hailed as a sign of progress. Today, McDonald's, unfairly perhaps, has become a symbol of much that is wrong with western capitalism.

During the anti-capitalist May riots in London two years ago, an Eton boy made a point of putting a chair through a McDonald's window in Whitehall as a symbolic gesture of defiance.

Though Pizza Hut and other fast-food chains have not commented officially, they are watching the food drama unfold in Britain. If the new logo and menus work for McDonald's, they, too, will have to fight back, food experts say.

This summer, McDonald's anticipated the change in the public mood in the UK by introducing a healthy Happy Meal, containing a salad, drink and Stepometer ' a small device that clips on a belt and counts the number of steps taken.

John Hawkes, marketing director for McDonald's UK, said of the new logo: 'The changes are big and bold and so the 'Change' launch campaign is big and bold. But that's the idea ' great tempting food that is surprisingly from McDonald's.'

The new campaign has been created by advertising agency Leo Burnett, whose group communications director, Paul Lawson, said: 'The fact that McDonald's is brave enough to even contemplate a creative idea that doesn't carry the famous golden arches is testament to their ongoing commitment to shaking up perceptions of the brand in the UK.'

But the change carries risks.

John Noble, director of the British Brands Group, believes the firm, which dishes up fast food to 46 million diners a day worldwide, could lose its way with British customers. 'The golden arches act as a shorthand and people immediately know what they stand for and what they'll get,' he observed.

'If you walk into any McDonald's in any part of the world and order a burger, you know what it'll look and taste like,' he pointed out. 'If you then change that shorthand by replacing the arches, you could also change people's perceptions of what the product means.'

Stephen Cheliotis, chairman of the Superbrands Council, also believes that McDonald's faces an uphill task.

'People still see it as a burger bar,' he said. 'It's trying to tap into the market where a group of people who go for lunch can have a burger, salad or bagel without having to go into three different outlets. It's risky but McDonald's is having to move very quickly as a result of pressure from food watchdogs and parents.'

Gordon MacMillan, from the advertising and marketing website Brand Republic, commented: 'The arches are so well associated with unhealthy food that the firm has lost a lot of ground. In the US, it now has restaurants that resemble bistros and I think we'll see that over here.'

Tom Blackett, chairman of Interbrand, said the chain was anxious to ditch its past but warned: 'Like a supertanker, it will take a long time to turn around.'

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