Wednesday, November 25, 2009


There's no question that McDonald's golden arches represent an iconic brand. The bold arches on a red backdrop are ubiquitous around the world and signify a variety of things (positive and negative) to consumers everywhere.

Some might associate the logo with happy childhood memories and cheerful television commercials (Who doesn't love Ronald McDonald? Or, at least, the Hamburgler? Robble Robble!). Others may view the logo as a corporate behemoth that has industrialized food and agriculture, dive-bombing a nation's nutrition. A few may also view McDonald's as a pioneer in partnering with environmental nonprofits such as Conservation International, the Environmental Defense Fund or the Natural Resources Defense Council.

It seems this last opinion is one that McDonald's hopes to strengthen in its customers' minds, at least in Germany. By changing the red background to green, McDonald's wants to signify a more environmentally friendly brand, one that innovates in the corporate sustainability space and seeks credit for its progress.

The McDonald's CSR journey is well-documented in business school cases, articles and its own publications. I've had the opportunity to meet many members of the company's CSR team and I can tell you that they take their responsibility seriously and are among the most well-intentioned practitioners I know. Even though I knew of much of the company's work, its Global Best of Green 2009 publication was an eye-opener for me and I was impressed by (and jealous of!) the wealth of ideas that have bubbled up from its employees around the globe.

But I still have to question the company messing with its branding. Does the average consumer truly believe that McDonald's is making honest strides at environmental sustainability? Did the company consider the economic value of its brand equity in making this change? Is it wise to drastically alter the brand promise in one region of the world, but not in others? Will consumers still care about sustainability in a few years?

I don't claim to be a marketer or an expert when it comes to branding, but I'm skeptical of this move. As a CSR practitioner, I'm excited to see a company take on this type of change in such a big way, so I hope my initial misgivings are proven wrong!

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