Behind the name: McDonald’s

Behind the name: McDonald’s

Ray Kroc, the founder of McDonald’s, was a branding genius even though he never went to college or received any kind of formal business education.  He realized that communication is the most effective way for people to respond to brand awareness.

He was in his 50's when he developed the McDonald’s fast-food concept, and when he died he was personally worth around a half-billion dollars.  But his success could be traced to a crucial decision he made about branding and communication.

Kroc for many years was a paper cup salesman who spent a lot of time at Wrigley Field watching his beloved Chicago Cubs.  After many years selling paper cups, Kroc had an opportunity to sell a new device called a “multi-mixer,” a machine that allowed a fast-food stand to make a number of milkshakes at once.

One of the biggest customers for his multi-mixers was a hamburger stand in San Bernadino, CA, owned by two brothers, Maurice (Mick) and Richard (Dick) McDonald.  Kroc went out to California and visited this customer.  He realized that a chain of hamburger stands selling hamburgers, French fries, and (!) using his mixers for milkshakes would be a true bonanza.

It didn’t take Kroc long to figure that the money was NOT in the milkshake machines, but rather in the food sold in the restaurants themselves.  With barely a dime to his name, he put together a plan for a chain of hamburger stands that he would call “McDonald’s” after the San Bernadino founders, Mick and Dick.  He had proposed a partnership with the McDonald brothers that involved the use of the McDonald’s name.  They rejected the idea of a national business, so they opted to sell the name McDonald’s, and give the brand to Kroc.

Kroc, who had no money, was in a quandary.  He certainly didn’t need the McDonald’s name to operationally start his franchised chain, but felt there was something special about the name “McDonald’s” and deep down he knew that he needed that brand name to be successful.

So, he somehow begged, borrowed, and stole what was needed to secure the “McDonald’s” name, and the rest – as they say – is history.

As McDonald’s achieved its phenomenal growth and success, the company invested heavily in the communication of the McDonald’s brand name.  In the mood for a laugh?  Go to and see how many different English language McDonald’s TV commercials you can find.  I found 253. Some are hilariously dated.  The Hamburglar is my favorite, but there are plenty of groaners out there including the spectacularly boring original 1968 Big Mac commercial.

Fast-food chains have come and gone since Ray Kroc created the McDonald’s concept.  Although McDonald’s has had its ups and downs, it remains one of the world’s most successful fast food operations.  A key to that success is McDonald’s rigorous and unrelenting communication of its brand. Sometimes the ads were clever and sometimes they weren't.  But they were constantly being shown, and people RESPONDED.

That communication strategy helped Kroc somehow put together a brand that is today worth an estimated $20 billions of dollars in brand equity.

As a postscript, Kroc never got to own his beloved Chicago Cubs.  He had to settle for the San Diego Padres, who were never as successful as his restaurants.


Ciaran Kelly
Communication & Mass Media Department

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