Judging a Big Mac by Its Cover

As McDonald's tries to rebrand and streamline its sagging empire, it's starting with its takeout bags.


To ring in the new year or, more likely, to put a coda on its terrible 2014, McDonald's scrapped its old take-out bags. And good for them.

The last set were a desperate phantasmagoria of chunky blocks, laden with the burden of too many options and reminiscent of the cheapness of old 42nd Street, or a greasy carnival barker hawking self-fulfilling disappointment.


The new ones may mimic other, more minimalist paper offerings in the fast-food kingdom, but in narrowing its message to a logo, a cartoon image of a burger or different menu item, and some big block lettering, McDonald's is doing more than just redesigning. The simplification of the McDonald's bag is actually both a physical and metaphorical vessel for a greater paring down of the bounty contained within the Golden Arches.

After posting a 30 percent quarterly drop in profit in October, McDonald's CEO Don Thompson announced that changes would be coming to the empire, including fewer menu options and customization of both sandwiches and value meals. Later in the year, the company announced it would interchange a new slogan "Lovin' Is Greater Than Hating" with its "I'm Lovin' It" catchphrase, a rebuke against the company's digital consortium of detractors, big and small.

The company also launched a transparency campaign to answer some of the questions about the provenance of its food. The McDonald's website now features a video that is, in part, about reconciliation.

After announcing the new packaging, one McDonald's spokesperson told The Wall Street Journal that the new bags present “a fresh, modern and simple look" designed to "highlight the playful icons that reflect some of our iconic menu items.” (The new bags have already generated more hate; one writer offered that the subtler messaging "makes it easier for people who are embarrassed of the brand to indulge in it.")

But no corporate renewal would be complete with the dispatching of buzzy platitudes. In announcing the company's new brand vision, its statement incorporated sentiments like this: "Today we’re working harder than ever to evolve with our customers. We’re moving from a philosophy of, 'billions served' to 'billions heard.'" A better idea, then, might have been to make the new bags reusable.