– Thoughts on Strategy and Management


The UK arm of global fast food chain McDonald’s has started a new campaign to get the publishers of the Oxford English Dictionary to revise their definitions of the term „McJob“ (I read this on page 1 of today’s Financial Times). Here is why this makes perfect sense from a strategic perspective and why I don’t like it anyway (also with a bit of strategic thinking in mind).

Brief background: The Oxford English Dictionary describes a McJob as “an unstimulating, low-paid job with few prospects, esp. one created by the expansion of the service sector”. Agreeably, this is not positive publicity for the fast food giant. Already in 2003, McDonald’s had tried to have this definition deleted from the OED – without success. The OED stated that they “monitor changes in the language”. Since they did not change their definition so far, they obviously did not notice any changes in the common use and understanding of the term McJob. The problem is that this colloquial meaning of the term does not seem to reflect working conditions at McDonald’s. I don’t know what working with them is like, but actually, McDonald’s “has established a pretty solid reputation as a decent employer” (FT). For instance, they won the Caterer and Hotelkeeper Magazine’s “Best place to work in hospitality” award.

From a management and strategic point of view, I can understand McDonald’s intention. Nobody likes his brand to be used in a negative context.
There are several aspects of this:

  • I don’t think that the marketing issue is the biggest problem. The majority of customers will not have second thoughts about the working conditions and career prospects of the guys with the McJobs when deciding where to have their burger. And the majority of customers will also know that jobs at Burger King or whatever fast food chain are nothing better. Anyway – a negative association with your brand name in public memory is never good.
  • They have to protect their brand. If they don’t react to such issues, it is like a signal that they don’t care about what people do with their brand. It is vital for a brand that it’s owners protect it against any kind of misuse, no matter how minor that may be.
  • However, the really big issue here is the war for talent. “McJob” is not about the quality of the food, it is about how desirable a job at McDonald’s is. If you are not able to attract good employees (and who wants to have a McJob in the OED-sense?) you cannot open new restaurants and you cannot deliver excellent customer service. Maybe you can’t even maintain the consistent quality of your food. This is a strategic risk with much more severe implications than a bit of negative publicity.

Despite of these good reasons, I think this was a bad move anyway:

  • In my view it is not a sign of good citizenship if a corporation tries to influence the content of public information media like dictionaries, newspapers and so on. It is OK to publish press releases, launch image campaigns and so on. There anybody can clearly see who’s opinion this is. When I look at a dictionary, I want to find an independent opinion or maybe a sponsored opinion (if indicated as sponsored). But I want to be sure that the content is not influenced by somebody behind the scenes.
  • It would have been better if they had launched some sort of image campaign about their working conditions and career opportunities. They can’t erase the public memory of the term McJob with that, but they can make sure that everybody knows that there is a difference between the common language meaning of the term and the actual jobs at the company. And besides that, even if they managed to erase the term in question from the dictionaries of this world – that does not mean that the term is erased from our memories and our language.
  • Is this really such a problem? One could argue that poor publicity is better than no publicity at all. What had happened? Somebody had thought about general characteristics of a job in a particular industry. The first brand name that came to this persons mind when thinking about the industry was McDonald’s. This thing is called “McJob”, not “Burger(King)Job”. The term “McJob” indicates that the brand “McDonald’s” is used as a synonym for the whole industry. That means that it is the best known brand within this industry. It is a common side effect of such a popularity that the brand is not only associated with the positive characteristics of the industry but also with the negative ones. Would McDonald’s prefer to have a less known brand?
  • Wasn’t it McDonald’s who started to “Mc-ify” things? They have the McRib and the McCafé, the BigMc and even an internal programme called “McJob”. It is no surprise that people outside the company use the same grammatical structure to create new terms. And again – those people know the brand and make it event more known.

(Disclaimer: All brands and trademarks used in this post are property of McDonalds, except Oxford English Dictionary, Financial Times and Burger King)

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  1. Pingback: Trademark Answers » McJob

  2. i enjoy everything about the McDonald’s McCafe coffees except the goofy name