I invite anyone to sit down and watch The Founder and try not to crave a Maccy Ds. Sitting through a film where branding and marketing techniques are unpicked; I have to say I did feel a tad silly that my overriding conclusion was: I’m hungry.
Anyway, what’s The Founder about? Well, the story of McDonalds; arguably the most recognisable fast food brand on the entire planet and how it came to be a household name in every conceivable household on all seven continents. But, we don’t start there. We start in San Bernardino.
Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch play the McDonald brothers, two ingenious yet humble business owners who have kick-started a mini revolution in their little corner of California, maximising the efficiency of burger production whilst also keeping food standards impeccably high. Enter Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton) (in his own words) an over-the-hill, fifty two year old milkshake salesman from Illinois. Kroc gets to work spreading the word, using the brothers golden arches as the brand image, setting up sister restaurants from coast to coast.
Ray Kroc’s zeal and persistence is what turns McDonalds from a local curio into a national institution. That’s the message of the film, essentially: persistence above everything. The core message hammered home is that there are thousands of talented, unsuccessful men and that unappreciated genius has become a cliché, the only thing that truly matters is how hungry you are, that’s what separates the wolf from the hens. And as Dick McDonald rightly says, Ray Kroc is a ‘wolf in the henhouse’.
You can’t help but feel sorry for the meek but brilliant brothers as they are bullied by Kroc and his all-powerful marketing team. He literally steals the company from under them by buying up the land their restaurants are made upon. In an uncharacteristically chilling scene he says ‘if my enemies were drowning, I’d stick a hose in their mouth’. Now, ghoulish theatrics aside, what becomes clear is that this is a man who will never be satisfied and dwarfs all those around him with his ambition. Make no mistake, if you don’t change with the times, expect to be left behind.
As uncomfortable as it is to watch two honest businessmen get muscled out of their own company, we never see Ray experience any doubt nor remorse in his quest for world domination. It may be a tough pill to swallow for the audience, but his success did make him genuinely happy. Having turned down every one of Ray’s proposed changes, is it any wonder he resorted to underhand measures to get his way? Honestly, it’s surprising he didn’t do it sooner.
‘McDonald’s means family’ Kroc repeats to literally anyone who’ll listen, and it does. To this day, McDonald’s is a safe, PG environment, a comfy little sanctuary to take your kids. McDonald’s is trustworthy. And that’s the key: making consumers trust your brand. It doesn’t matter what you’re selling, package it as honest and wholesome and you’re onto a winner.
It doesn’t matter whether you agree with Mac McDonald and consider Kroc a ‘professional leech’ or even if you’re more sympathetic and see him as a visionary opportunist, history is written by the winners and, whether you like it or not, Ray Kroc is The Founder.