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Not Every Brand is a Lifestyle Brand


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July 05, 2005

Not Every Brand is a Lifestyle Brand

David Kiley

McDonald’s move to recruit rap impresarios/designers like Russell Simmons, Damon Dash and mainstream tastemaker Tommy Hilfiger to submit ideas for new uniforms for its employees isn’t a terrible idea. Though I can’t help wondering if that is what Hilfiger wants to be known for.

What is a little thought provoking is a quote from Steve Stoute, founder and chief creative officer of Translation Consulting and Brand Imaging, New York in the Advertising Age story about the effort. Stoute, who has been engaged by McDonald’s to consult on the uniform project and counts Verizon and Yahoo among his clients says about the uniform effort: “It’s a very important aspect of employee pride. McDonald’s has evolved and become a lifestyle brand ... since it now is relevant to our lifestyle, let’s go one step further and make its employees relevant to our lifestyle as well.”

Call me a cynic, but just how is McDonald’s a “lifestyle brand?” The most obvious answer is that if a person stops at McDonald’s to eat every day or nearly every day for one of their meals, I suppose eating at McDonald’s is literally part of their lifestyle. But does that make McDonald’s a lifestyle brand? Or does it simply define an individual as having an unhealthy lifestyle?

I’m not here to bash McDonald’s. But I do want to point out that not every brand is a lifestyle brand. Those that seem obviously lifestyle brands to me include: Harley Davidson, Ralph Lauren, Martha Stewart, Ikea, RocaWear, Porsche, MINI, Zara, Old Navy. I tag these brands as “lifestyle” brands because they are ones people want to wear and be identified with. MINI not only sells daily mobility, but an extensive list of apparel and accessories. Ditto Harley. Roca-Wear involves not only clothing and now sneakers, but music, vodka, a magazine and films. With Ikea and Old Navy, customers go back again and again, and it’s easy to tell when someone has been dressed at Old Navy or furnished by Ikea.

But back to McDonald’s. I know kids are into the toys. But do people by and large want to be identified with eating fast food day-to-day as a brand badge? Not in my neighborhood. McDonald’s is firing on all cylinders to give its brand an air of acceptability and even hipness. It wants McDonald’s to become a more “wearable” brand, hence its announcement last month that is expanding the McKids line of apparel and home furnishings. The question is whether the fast fooder can really pull this off. No one has to apologize or make excuses for wearing a MINI jacket or MINI driving shoes while driving a perky MINI Cooper. No one has to make excuses for coordinating dishes and place settings, as well as bathroom tile and towels per Martha’s advice. But owning up to a “McDonald’s lifestyle” as a badge of honor seems like putting too much on a brand that is really about buying food fast when you are on the go rather than taking time to better plan and execute what is going into one’s mouth and stomach. Can a McLifestyle really be a good thing? Good trick if they can pull that off.

11:36 AM

Food

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It just shows how desperate McDonalds have become to jump onto the "lifestyle" bandwagon and unashamedly trying to pass it off as hip and cool. It is all these BS marketeers at their best of uninspired desperation that actually sucks the life out of what lifestyle means and demeans it.

For such a large corporation, I am also shocked to think their VP or Director in charge of this "rebranding" can even hope to think that this is the way McDonalds should go. What is wrong if they were to stick to the idea that McDonalds actually provides a simple, basic service? And that's to feed people on the move. And to provide the best in that service category is not a bad thing. What is all this pretension that that is a "lifestyle"?

Wishful thinking!

Posted by: A Wong at July 6, 2005 01:39 AM

It's time to stop knocking McDonald's under the charge that they are not healthy food. (Full disclosure: I own a trivially small amount of McD stock.) They sell good food. People who eat there choose what they want, which is often food that is low in fat and high in non-caloric nutrition.

Your point, though, regards positioning oneself as a lifestyle brand. Two images for McD comes to mind: one of the urban professional who is fast paced and proud of it, and sees a soulmate, a kindred spirit in the professional, clean McD environment serving the food they want and like. McDonalds, thus, is the choice of the Suits and penthouse elites when on the go. The other image, which McD is pursuing, is that McD is every bit as cool as Sprite--irony intended. Sprite positioned itself deliberately as part of the meaning of minority-urban-hipness; and McD is following suit. There's no exploitation here; just good marketing.

Posted by: Bruce Meyer at July 6, 2005 09:11 AM

I think McDonalds is correct in viewing itself as a "lifestyle brand" in the sense that their food is somewhat weak. Just like with surveys that have shown that people actually prefer the taste of Pepsi over Coke if they don't know which drink is which, people also prefer the taste of Burger King and other burgers over McDonalds burgers... and yet McDonalds remains the #1 fast food burger chain. So they are a "lifestyle brand" because they don't rely on just the strength of their product to gain revenue. Yes, this latest effort to engage celebrity designers does seem a little silly... but other successful companies have found that happy employees with uniforms they like (such as Southwest Airlines' flight attendants wearing khakis and polo shirts) has been a corporate initiative that worked.

Just my two cents...

Posted by: amanda at July 6, 2005 02:51 PM

Nicely put & boy do I agree. Only when I was a kid & thought Ronald McDonald was pretty neat would I have ever wanted to flaunt an affinity for Mickey D's.

There are other fast-food establishments that have cultivated an intensely loyal following such as Whataburger in the south & southwest or In & Out Burger in CA, but they're so good because they keep their eye on the ball rather than branding everything within striking distance.

Posted by: Lisa O'Neill at July 6, 2005 05:59 PM

Steven Stoute

Posted by: BJ at March 1, 2007 11:50 PM


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