A Brief History Of McDonald’s Corporate Strategies

There are certain companies that have found modest success with their marketing efforts, and then there are those that pretty much offer masterclasses on how to run a marketing campaign. McDonald’s falls in the latter category, and has been so good at marketing that some colleges offer courses just to learn from them.

Throughout McDonald’s history, there have been some marketing strategies that have helped elevate the company to another level. Here’s a brief history of McDonald’s corporate strategies throughout the years and how they’ve grown to their current level.

The Arches

Before the days of online advertising and endless television channels to place advertising spots, restaurants had to be eye-catching to attract foot and car traffic with hopes of growing. Because of this, McDonald’s got a huge leg-up on the rest of the competition when they made their buildings stand out among the rest. Originally, the McDonald’s brothers came up with the idea of half-circles, but architect Clark Meston suggested large parabolas to make them into identifiable arches.

The design ended up being such a success locally that the McDonald’s arches have remained unchanged ever since. The strange part about it, though, is that the arches weren’t originally intended to make the letter ‘M’ but when you saw a McDonald’s location from a certain angle, it lined up just right, and the rest is history.

Sports Tie-Ins

Even in the early days of fast food, there has been a stigma that says that healthy people avoid it at all costs. However, McDonald’s has spent hundreds of millions trying to kick this train of thought by getting tied in with sports around the world. From the FIFA World Cup to the Super Bowl and the Olympics, McDonald’s has been synonymous with the biggest athletic competitions.

There was one time when McDonald’s doing a sports tie-in backfired tremendously, though. During the 1984 Summer Olympics, McDonald’s launched a campaign where people could win free items if the United States won a medal in that category. For instance, if you pulled “basketball,” you could get a free Big Mac if the US took gold. Once the Soviet Union boycotted the Olympics, though, McDonald’s lost out on a ton of money because of the United States dominating the medal count.

The Happy Meal

We all know that children can be incredibly picky eaters, so it was hard for fast food chains in the early days to find a way to get families to want to bring their kids. The answer for McDonald’s was to create a menu where there wasn’t only kid-sized portions, but also a small toy and fun packaging that appealed to children. The idea actually came from a Guatemalan franchisee in the mid-1970s who created her own “Ronald Menu” and news of its success reached McDonald’s headquarters.

By the end of the decade, McDonald’s rolled out the Happy Meal after making a few tweaks, including perfecting the packaging. Kansas City got to be the test market for the new idea, and it was so successful that McDonald’s immediately launched a worldwide campaign and it has been one of the biggest menu staples ever since.

I’m Lovin’ It

While we might think of slogans as something innocuous, they’re one of the most important aspects of a marketing campaign. McDonald’s has had some notable slogans throughout the years, including “There’s a difference at McDonald’s You’ll Enjoy” and “There’s Nothing Quite Like a McDonald’s.” However, it wasn’t until 2003 that McDOnald’s found something that would stick for ages.

“I’m Lovin’ It” was based on the German McDonald’s campaign called “Ich Liebe Es” and it took off in America to the point where Pharrell Williams and Justin Timberlake created a song that would appear in the advertisements. “I’m Lovin’ It” still appears on all of the packaging for McDonald’s and has become synonymous with the brand which has only adopted secondary slogans ever since.


Many think that McDonald’s putting a major focus on the coffee side of operations came in the United States during the 2000s to appeal to the younger generation to get them away from Starbucks, but it actually stemmed from the Australian stores back in 1993. The first McCafe opened up in Melbourne, and over the next decade, all of the stores were tweaked to include the brand.

Headquarters in the United States took notice and started to put the McCafes inside of stores in the Chicagoland area. Over the next few years, seemingly every McDonald’s had a McCafe, leading it to branch out to secondary markets. With drinks like cappuccinos, macchiatos, and specialty coffees, the McCafe marketing ended up being a massive success.

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