Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Marketing McDonald's

Ordinarily, one would not think to connect material from a class about food with that of a Communication class, but I found myself making significant ties when we learned about fast food.

Our first reading in Fast Food Nation discussed the history fast food, how it developed, the implications of the fast food industry, and provided a lot of detail about the founders of McDonald’s and the Disney Corporation, Ray Kroc and Walt Disney, respectively. I think it is very interesting that the author, Eric Schlosser, decided to talk about Walt Disney in the first chapter of this book about fast food because Disney did not at all work in the food industry; he founded a corporation that provides children’s entertainment. In fact, Schlosser mentions in this chapter that Kroc also wasn’t knowledgeable about food, failing at determining menu items for the McDonald’s food chain. However, Schlosser states on page 33 that:

“Despite all their successes as businessmen and entrepreneurs…perhaps the most significant achievement of these two men lay elsewhere. Walt Disney and Ray Kroc were masterful salesmen. They perfected the art of selling things to children. And their success led many others to aim marketing efforts at kids, turning America’s youngest consumers into a demographic group that is now avidly studied, analyzed, and targeted by the world’s largest corporations.”

Indeed, a significant chunk of the syllabus in my Communications class is devoted to advertising and methods of appealing to children in today’s society. It’s remarkable that the founder of the McDonald’s Corporation, along with his business partner Walt Disney, perfected this so-called art thirty years ago for a traditionally nondescript industry, turning food into a commodity like any other.

Schlosser describes the methods that McDonald’s employed to appeal to children on page 42:

“The restaurant chain evoked a series of pleasing images in a youngster’s mind: bright colors, a playground, a toy, a clown, a drink with a straw, little pieces of food wrapped up like a present. Kroc had succeeded at selling something intangible to children.”

The corporation was so successful in its child-targeted advertising that in a survey of American school children, 96% could correctly identify Ronald McDonald and Americans now spend more money on fast food than on higher education and commodities such as computers, movies, and cars.

When so many children, and ultimately adults, are influenced by a corporation’s marketing and invest so much money into a corporation as a result, the corporation then begins to have significant control over society. And since McDonald’s is a corporation that is involved with food, this has serious implications on the nation’s food supply, which is one of the most important aspects of our society that is required in order to survive. More specifically, McDonald’s has become the country’s largest purchaser of beef, pork, and potatoes, so the corporation has significant purchasing power, determining the manner in which these foods are produced worldwide. This is a significant factor in the development and widespread use of CAFOs, Confined Animal Feeding Operations, where millions of cows are raised in depressing conditions so as to produce the cheapest supply of beef for the nation’s consumption. McDonald’s and other fast food corporations have caused many externalities that are not accounted for in its prices, including reduced health of animals, increased food-related diseases, soil degradation, environmental pollution, and labor rights abuses. In Fast Food Nation, Schlosser summarizes the vast effect of the fast food industry; “During a relatively brief period of time, the fast food industry has helped to transform not only the American diet, but also our landscape, economy, workforce, and popular culture.”

It is important that, as consumers, we understand the implications of our purchases and be wary of marketing. We cannot view or purchase food the way we view or purchase other commodities; food is intrinsically different because it is life sustaining and has so many widespread implications. McDonald’s has been extremely successful in advertising its products but if we ask the corporation to spend a little less money on marketing and a little bit more on socioeconomic benefits, McDonald’s would make significantly bigger achievements and communicate a much better message for young children in the long run.

Sources:

Schlosser, Eric. Fast Food Nation. New York: Harper Perennial, 2005.

Straubhaar, Joseph, and Robert LaRose. Media Now Understanding Media, Culture, and Technology, 2008 Update. Belmont: Wadsworth, 2007.

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