McDonald's Packaging Re-design falls short of inspiring

packaging design agencies

Will McDonald’s get bang for their packaging redesign buck?
McDonald’s is set to launch a re-designed suite of packaging in the US as part of their continuing effort to keep the brand relevant with younger consumers. McDonald’s has unveiled a new series of take-away bag, drink cup and burger box designs featuring a “simple, fresh” look that is consistent with its vision to be “a modern, progressive burger company.” The new packaging will initially roll-out across the US, before going global through McDonald’s more than 36,000 locations around the world. As the global fast-food giant continues to struggle with maintaining the high levels of brand engagement it enjoyed for several decades, every layer of the brand experience is being reviewed from menu to restaurant design, advertising, social media and packaging. The challenge is to get all of the puzzle pieces right.

packaging designers

McDonald’s last packaging overhaul was completed in 2013, showing how switched-on the business is to staying current. In Feb2015 McDonald’s brought together designers from eight different agencies, including Leo Burnett Germany; TBWA U.S.; DDB Hong Kong; Creata Australia; Boxer UK; Landini Australia; and Forpeople UK to explore the next evolution of their packaging design.

“It’s hard to say who gets the credit for the actual design because everyone had a hand in shaping the thinking,” Matt Biespiel, McDonald’s Senior Director of Global Brand Development, told Ad Age. Biespiel shared a look at the ‘Make People Smile’ packaging design summit (“Reinvented Design Process. From weeks to days. From good to great. From $$$ to $. From Yes to Wow.”) in a video titled ‘A Hot House for Hot Design’:

The strategy behind the packaging design change has attracted plenty of criticism. “Packaging is important when you put products on a shelf. McDonald’s does not put products on a shelf,” Scott Rothbort, chief market strategist for the Stillman School of Business at Seton Hall University, told Newsweek. “A good deal of the products are eaten in the restaurant or car, or taken home. Changing the actual packaging has negligible impact, if any, and certainly isn’t worth the money. They need to invest in their menu.”

And whilst Rothbort makes an important point that McDonalds is not a packaging-led, FMCG business, he fails to grasp the role every layer of the brand plays in creating the overall experience. Every single McDonalds customer interacts with the packaging during their brand experience, providing a critical touch-point for the brand to engage and inspire.

packaging redesign

Packaging design studios

The failure in this case is how far McDonald’s took the opportunity (or in this case; didn’t take the opportunity) the refresh their packaging design. The brands who are eating away at McDonald’s market share are leading the way with personality-filled design and fresh brand propositions that have no inherited baggage and a greater natural engagement based-on their authentic reason for being. The challenge for McDonalds was (and remains) to be even more relevant and engaging than the competition. Unfortunately the new packaging is a pale and uninspiring imitation of the leading edge of their category. What makes this even tougher to swallow is that the video of their own design summit includes so much courageous design that either failed to resonate with the McDonald’s decision makers, or took them beyond their comfort zone.

At a time when McDonald’s needed the courage to strike out in a new direction and create a new and engaging chapter for their brand story, this packaging re-design has failed to inspire, and will likely do little to change consumer perceptions of the brand.

Dave Ansett
Truly Deeply Founder & Creator of Brands
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Pics courtesy of McDonald’s

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