THE BLOG
23/12/2013 05:13 GMT | Updated 19/02/2014 05:59 GMT

2014: The Year of Single-mindedness

I've just discovered that a friend buys Clinique everything, but can't use the product at all. Her purchases are driven by the simplicity of the Clinique bottling and cleanness of its pack design - both of which she loves to see in her bathroom. The result is a triumph of form over function, but then packaging, especially when it comes to luxury, has always been about the promise of a brand, almost as much as the branding itself. At its best, the right 'clothing' for products signal a heady mix of desire, aspiration and sheer, mainly unabashed, greed.

But luxury or personalised packs aren't always the right move for a brand - especially if you're a fast-food chain. As I look back over the past year, one aberration sticks out more than all others for me; this summer, McDonald's launched a range of luxury burgers in Japan loaded with gourmet toppings such as black truffle sauce and even a chorizo and avocado medley.

My gut reaction to seeing the new luxury burgers was; is McDonald's taking the Mickey? I was hoping so, as the mere thought of it gave my brain indigestion.

The truffle drizzled burgers and white, minimalist boxes that they were served in, just didn't sit right with the McDonald's brand that the average Tom, Dick and Harriet knows and very much used to love. In fact, it probably just felt a bit 'wrong' to them.

That's perhaps not surprising as this year McDonald's as a brand seems to have been having an identity crisis, mainly because it has tried to appease too many people over the years. Its traditional colours were a bold combination of red and yellow, with the famous Golden Arches at the centre of its message. A visual shorthand for bright, fast and no-nonsense. If you see McDonald's in the UK today, the golden arches are still there, but everything else seems to be a sea of green. McDonald's isn't a green brand idea; it's just given in to its self-consciousness about healthy eating and clutching at the coat tails of the sustainability movement.

Last time I checked, Coke's branding hadn't suddenly turned green, or KitKat's for that matter - two household names that fiercely guard, almost never change and constantly reinforce, their brand identity among us consumers. The truth is that brands only really become successful and loved by us when they do the same thing again and again, while continually finding ways of doing it a bit better.

As consumers we subconsciously see brand names, logos and corporate colours as information cues. When we spot the Golden Arches we think Big Mac, fast service and shiny interiors. If you mess with those cues, or stray too far from them, people don't feel comfortable with the brand anymore, as they fail to recognise what it stands for. Are those cues still valid for McDonald's today? I'm not so sure.

The company was obviously trying to respond to the resurgence of the burger - a trend we're seeing globally in big cities. The success of Byron and The Diner in London are very much proof of the humble burger's rising popularity. However, McDonald's has missed the point. Those new upstarts are fundamentally about an 'eating experience', whereas the Golden Arches symbolise 'classic' affordable grab-and-go food.

I admit that the luxury burgers in Japan could be a special concession (if made using Kobe beef - the epitome of fine dining if you're a meat lover), but I would assume not. Rather this move could be indicative of a broader trend, seen by the introduction of its new 'luxury' frappe - another product on the menu board that doesn't really fit in.

People don't go to McDonald's for a burger dressed up in a faux Tiffany box. What they do want is for McDonald's to get back to what it was good at and concentrate on constantly improving that magic ingredient. Brands should never try to be all things to everyone. It is single-mindedness that keeps the successful brand afloat - and every brand should make that discipline its new year resolution.