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Giving permission for McDonald’s restaurants to appear in films had been part of my job description for a long time, but when producer Roger Weisberg, who I’d worked with before, approached me on this one, I had to pause. They not only wanted to film at the Museum McDonald’s in Des Plaines, IL, the recreation of Ray Kroc’s first quick service hamburgers and fries restaurant of 1955, but they wanted someone for the controversial host of the film to interview there. I knew this one would be trouble, but I was intrigued, as the host would be Andrei Codrescu, a colorful Transylvanian poet who was burning up the airwaves on National Public Radio  as a social critic of all things American. But I was a fan of his show, and his oblique sense of humor, and I knew that Roger, and hopefully Andrei, had a soft spot for McDonald’s.

The premise of his documentary film, which was being produced for commercial distribution in movie houses, at least on the arts circuit, was that Andrei, who had never before driven a car, would travel from the east coast to the west, driving a 1968 red Cadillac convertible, producing a sort of “On The Road of the 90s” film of his colorful encounters with icons of popular American culture. I volunteered to do the interview with Andrei at Ray Kroc’s 1955 McDonald’s, but told almost no one in management as I was pretty sure Andrei’s controversial take on American culture would not sit easily with the keepers of our conservative corporate culture..So I donned my paper crew hat of the era, straightened my tie and walked onto the set of my first commercial film. When the movie came out, I think in 1993 or so, Vicki and I took our young  niece and nephew with us to see it at a theatre in Evanston. We just told them it would have something to do with McDonald’s. When the McDonald’s segment came up, my niece Amanda exclaimed, “It’s uncle Chuck.” The film, Road Scholar, while winner of a prestigious Peabody Award, only attracted a limited audience, probably mostly hip college students and quirky NPR fans. Around the same time, Road Scholar was produced as a book, with the subtitle “Coast to Coast late in the century.”  Following is the McDonald’s segment from the book (click on title), in which I’m quoted from the film.

Road Scholar

The First McDonald’s ROOF of the power of dreams: Ray Kroc, one man with a single idea, a rounded idee fixe called a hamburger, began to dream an empire and, lo and behold, one day the entire planet is covered by the mighty waves of his single thought…If anybody’s going to get to heaven it’s Mr. Kroc on a ladder of billions of burgers, the number that most approached infinity. Next to rock ‘n’ roll, McDonald’s is the most enduring American creation of the second half of the twentieth century. They are chomping them down in Moscow, Beijing, Des Moines, wearing them in Poughkeepsie and Frankfort…(sing this) CHUCK, a company official, speaking of First McDonald’s (now a museum): This is the only early McDonald’s restaurant that’s been preserved exactly as it opened April 15, 1955. And these days the students who come through Hamburger University over at our McDonald’s campus nearby come over to get a little feeling for the culture. It’s really a cultural experience. It’s a chance to see, touch and feel what McDonald was like at the beginning. .Now we’ve got for you an official McDonald’s crew hat here just as was worn in the fifties. And we make you an honorary crew person. AC: (Pointing to life size replica of early McDonald’s employee) .I could look like him; he’s tall. A hamburger-deficient diet during my childhood in Transylvania must have stunted my growth. Eighty-five billion burgers sold vs. 250 million Americans equals 340 burgers per American…that works out to four extra inches per American versus your average Romanian.

CHUCK; We used to talk about hamburgers in terms of if we stack them all up it would be a stack that would reach the moon and back 16 times. But I think we have gone quite a way beyond that. So we haven’t related it to any more planets lately.

As Chuck and AC converse:, Ray Kroc’s voice is heard beyond the grave: Transfer your fears into faith. Any you will inherit the freedom of the future. And f you believe in it – and believe in it hard – it is impossible to fail.

And now there is the McLean Deluxe, a skinnier version of the Big Mac for the fat-conscious American of the end of the Millennium. McDonald’s has so penetrated out national consciousness we even have McPoems now, which are poems mass-produced  in writing workshops at universities. And McTests, McThoughts, McReactions, McFeelings, and so on.

No meat eater myself, I watch the vast fields of wheat that end up between Mr. Kroc’s buns and the immense lowing herds that lay down  their lives for Big Mac. I can see too the intense flows of these  commodities through the banks and the money markets — the rivers of commerce paralleling  the rivers of wheat and meat, like mind and body.

In the novel The Pit by Frank Norris, a madman tries to corner the wheat market. Like Napoleon he is filled with dreams of glory. Every leaf of bread on earth will be stamped with his name. Alas! The drought he prays for does not come. Instead, there is a plentiful harvest. The earth, which rarely sympathizes with the dreams of Napoleons, buries him in wheat. All his plans go awry. The peasants of Europe are starving, and the wheat he has been hoarding spills over the shores of America and feeds them. The Midwest harbors such dreams occasionally. It must be the immensity of her plains that allows imperial daydreams to roll unimpeded.

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The original McDonald's

Dick and Mac McDonald’s original drive-in, walk-up service restaurant in San Bernardino, CA, as it looked when they completed the renovation from their old bar-be-que, car hop restaurant, in 1948. Showing an autograph by “Richard J. McDonald, Founder.”

 

2011 Top 10 Largest Chains (by latest-year sales)

McDonald's 1. McDonald’s – $34.17B
2. Subway – $11.43B
3. Starbucks Coffee – $8.49B
4. Burger King – $8.13B
5. Wendy‘s – $8.11B
6. Taco Bell – $7.00B
7. Dunkin’ Donuts – $5.93B
8. Pizza Hut – $5.50B
9. KFC – $4.60B
10. Applebee’s – $4.43B

Read more: http://nrn.com/article/top-100-top-10-chains-and-companies?goback=%2Egde_140791_member_138617717#ixzz22KKfBtHX

 

If eating 3 times a day is a sinister idea, then the critics of Ronald McDonald have a point. But what does Ronald do? He helps parents make breakfast, lunch or dinner, or a snack, a happy experience for their kids. Most parents would say that is helpful to them. McDonald’s offers many appealing menu choices for kids and parents, along with known nutrition, portion control and quality control. Add a little parental guidance and what do you have — a Happy Meal! McDonald’s is on the upward curve in nutritional responsibility.

P.S. And don’t forget Ronald McDonald House — no one made McDonald’s build all those wonderful places, but they did just because they could. Guess that’s social responsibility in action, too.

McD uses social media to respond to violent video

Chain reaches out to customers on Twitter to condemn attack that an employee filmed and posted online
April 25, 2011 | By Ron Ruggless

McDonald’s Corp. and a Maryland franchise owner used social media channels over the weekend to communicate with customers after an employee-filmed video of a brutal beating in one of the chain’s restaurants went viral online.

The video, which went up on YouTube.com briefly Friday and was picked up by other websites, drew thousands of views during the day. The three-minute clip showed attackers repeatedly grabbing, punching, kicking and pulling the hair of 22-year-old Chrissy Lee Polis at a franchised McDonald’s in Rosedale, Md., while an older female customer and an employee tried to intervene.

After the video went online, McDonald’s posted a message midday Friday to its more than 121,000 Twitter followers saying, “We aware of the incident in Baltimore and are working with local police in their criminal investigation.”

McDonald’s tweeted several more times about the incident over the weekend. By Saturday afternoon, the chain had condemned the assault on Twitter and reported that the employee responsible for the video had been fired.

Read more: http://www.nrn.com/article/mcd-uses-social-media-respond-violent-video?ad=quick-service&utm_source=MagnetMail&utm_medium=email&utm_term=ceebeling@hotmail.com&utm_content=NRN-News-AssociationAM-04-26-11&utm_campaign=Composting%20no%20longer%20fringe%20activity%20for%20restaurants#ixzz1KeBdI59R

They say reputation is everything. The March 23 edition of Fortune Magazine names McDonald’s among the top 10 overall of the World’s Most-Admired Companies, among 1,400 major U.S. and International companies rated by 4,100 industry experts. McDonald’s rated #1 in 3 of 9 categories: Effectiveness in conducting its business globally; Quality of Management; and, Wise use of corporate assets. McDonald’s also rated #1 in the Food Services category.

Back in the 1990’s, when I was corporate communications officer of McDonald’s, I worked with Fortune for over a year to develop a category within which McDonald’s could be considered for ranking in their “Most-Admired” search. From a simple hamburger stand created by Dick and Mac McDonald, to a corporation and a brand nurtured by Ray Kroc and generations of leaders, McDonald’s is now known and admired around the world. McDonald’s has come a long way.

For more information, go to this Fortune website: http://money.cnn.com/magazines/fortune/mostadmired/2011/index.html

A professor from a midwestern college suggested to me that Harvard University trademarked the word “Hahvahd” (see my previous blog, and see http://www.harvard.edu) because they wanted to protect themselves from its inappropriate use. If so, how pretentious is that?

P.S. My wife is watching “Social Network” as we speak.

P.P.S. Some years ago, I prepared a presentation on McDonald’s marketing strategies at the request of the Harvard Graduate School of Business, and accompanied our CMO to campus to make the presentation and handle student Q&A. True, McDonald’s isn’t rocket science, but there was more than a little interest in how a hamburger was grown into a Dow Jones 30 global organization.

P.P.P.S. Not everything is invented at Harvard.

P.P.P.P.S. Now I’ll probably get some comments on McDonald’s trademarks.

P.P.P.P.P.S. I don’t care, I’m retired.

McDonald’s, my alumni group, just announced that U.S. 2010 4th quarter sales were up 4.4% in the U.S. Almost simultaneously, Nation’s Restaurant News announced that the number of independent U.S. restaurants declined 2% — losing some 5500 restaurants, in 2010 vs. 2009. The number of chain restaurants remained level. What’s going on? Rising commodity prices for groceries are tougher for independents to swallow than the more cost-efficient chains. As for McDonald’s, they continue to re-invest in “re-imaging” their restaurants, and coffees and other special beverages, together with strong promotions, are boosting brand appeal for the Golden Arches, though even McDonald’s sees some small price increases coming. As consumers, we need to watch for the bargains, as prices for almost everything, from groceries to gas, begin to climb. When I retired from McDonald’s at the Millennium, some 50 million customers a day were dropping by globally; Today it’s 62 million a day, and that still occasionally includes myself, as in this visit to a Shanghai McDonald’s last fall.

There was a time when the French had a big cultural problem with the company that built it’s success on what else than the French Fry. Activists made the term “culinary imperialism” into their anti-McDonald’s mantra. But those days are long gone. McDonald’s first innovated a policy called “Open Doors” in France, inviting the suspicious news media and the critics among the public to comes behind the scenes in its restaurants and suppliers to see that French people were serving them quality food from predominantly French suppliers. Now they can say the same thing about the beef. See this article from http://www.burgerbusiness.com for the details. http://www.burgerbusiness.com/?p=6402&utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+burgerbusiness+%28βurgerβusiness%29

As the Rose Bowl Parade is underway at the moment, memories flood back of the time from 1975 through 1980, and then again in the mid to late 80s, when I participated in the parade as an organizer and PR person for the McDonald’s All-American High School Band, which participated annually in the Rose Bowl Parade. The band members were selected through an application process from each of the States and Washington, D.C., and assembled to march and play annually in this and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. The talented Band also did live concerts and parades on the East coast and in Chicago, and in California and Arizona, entertaining thousands of young people and families, including a break-out jazz band which did additional performances, including the Jerry Lewis Labor Day Telethon. We endured rain storms, earthquakes and every sort of technical and logistical challenges imaginable, yet always managed to have a fun and memorable time, by band members, staff and supporters. I once even had the chance to play the kazoo accompanying Lionel Hampton onstage at Carnegie Hall, in rehearsal there for the band’s concert with Hamp. And I married the never-tiring travel agent for the All-American Band, almost 33 years ago.

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