Power of Contrast Comes Through in McDonald’s Story

When contrast is so great that it challenges our assumptions, you’ve got the makings of a good story.

So it is in The Huffington Post article, “McDonald’s Gets Modern European-Style Makeover in NYC.”

Is there a restaurant interior more dreary than the classic McDonald’s? Clearly, the original objective for the seating area was to make cleaning up a spilled shake or squished fries as easy as possible.

Now we learn that McDonald’s plans to remake its look in a quest for hipness:

The eatery is outfitted with outlets for plugging in laptops, upholstered vinyl chairs instead of Fiberglas seats bolted to the floor, subdued lighting and employees whose all-black uniforms suggest a hip boutique.

I can’t believe they’re doing away with the fiberglass seats.

It was almost a rite of passage for every kid to misbehave in McDonald’s, inevitably fall off the chair and get conked on the head as a reminder from the karma gods to listen to their mom.

To show the lengths McDonald’s is going to to be hip or, dare we say, avant garde, the walls are decorated with a design based on French architect Philippe Avanzi’s magnified thumbprint.

Very shrewd decision to use a French architect. To borrow an architect’s thumb from Turkey or Indonesia just doesn’t have the same je ne sais quoi.

The redesigned McDonald’s features “reproductions of Danish designer Arne Jacobsen’s chairs including the Egg chair, a classic of mid-century functionality that would look right at home on The Jetsons.”

I wish I had paid more attention in art history. Aside from The Jetsons, I’m not exactly sure what that means.

But here’s where the story adds a twist of friction thanks to some fine investigative reporting.

When McDonald’s first hired Avanzi in 2006 to help redesign its European outlets, Avanzi brought in Danish furniture producer Fritz Hansen to supply authentic Jacobsen chairs.

But Hansen, the sole licensed manufacturer of Jacobsen chairs, ended the partnership because McDonald’s was also buying unauthorized copies.

I’m not convinced the PR person’s retort takes the sting out of this accusation:

Proud said the chairs at the New York store are “modeled after” Jacobsen’s designs.

Let me get this straight.

McDonald’s was getting a better price for the Jacobsen chairs on the gray market which caused the Danish furniture guy to cut off McDonald’s official supply. So McDonald’s now buys a knock-off version that only the chair cognoscenti can tell the difference.

I smell a made-for-TV script.

P.S. I’ve snagged the photos of redesigned McDonald’s locations in France and Italy from the French (what can I say) post “McDonald’s à la sauce design.” They actually look pretty good.

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5 comments

5 Comments so far

  1. Erin December 1st, 2009 5:00 pm

    Is it just me or do these look more like a fancy Starbucks than a McD’s? As a spot that I thought –at least historically –catered heavily appeal to children with the bright colors and life sized Ronald McDonalds, in a quest for coolness, one has to wonder if McD’s is losing site of the audience that drags their parents in there in the first place?
    Perhaps McDonald’s overseas pull quite a different crowd then they do here in the US…

  2. Lou Hoffman December 1st, 2009 10:15 pm

    They must have figured there wasn’t enough margin in all of those happy meals.

    On the communications front, one gets the vibe that there’s no cohesive plan. Of course, with the Huffington Post reporter playing “Woodstein” it seemed to put McDonald’s on its heels.

  3. Lucie Bickerdike December 7th, 2009 4:36 am

    This is hilarious! I had noticed that here in London, the McDonalds outlets in the more salubrious parts of town have shiny silver signs (instead of yellow) and noticeably more grown up interiors.

    Usually these ones are very much aimed at the local suits. But I guess it’s not a bad idea to make the place more appealing for parents to sit with the kids!

    Perhaps McDonalds is making a bigger effort to cater to its specific local crowds. I think taking a more targeted, individualised approach is something PR people can identify with ;)

  4. Lou Hoffman December 7th, 2009 9:13 am

    Thanks. Will be interesting to how McDonald’s communications plays out parallel to this strategy.

  5. Michael Margolis December 10th, 2009 1:32 am

    I think the new design just doesn’t jive with the larger McDonald’s brand story. Total cognitive dissonance but fascinating to see.

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