New year, new presumptions. While it’s incredibly easy to take pot-shots at a global brand like McDonald’s, recent criticism of the quintessential burger chain’s new takeout packaging design is fraught with nefarious theories. Ranging from the accusatory to the suspicious, much of the coverage of McDonald’s new packaging has one theme in common: shame.

Image courtesy McDonald's
Image courtesy McDonald’s

These brand boos have reached a cacophony rivaling the wingspan of the Golden Arches themselves. One writer even goes so far as to ascertain that McDonald’s knows its customers are ashamed to eat at the ubiquitous restaurant and that the company’s minimalistic design is a specific step to downplay its own brand and combat this mindset.

Slow down.

Image courtesy McDonald's
Image courtesy McDonald’s

The McDonald’s Golden Arches has been a staple of Americana and branding since the logo’s inception nearly 50 years ago. To assert that a global powerhouse with this level of brand recognition and equity would sell itself out on its own packaging is misguided at best.

Detractors who seem to think the new minimalist design allows customers to hide their fast food order are forgetting two key points:

  1. A redesign is a purposeful decision.
    Brands as large as McDonald’s do not make such key brand design decisions without express purpose rooted in a larger brand strategy.According to Terri Hickey, Manager, McDonald’s U.S. Media Relations, “the packaging was designed with a fresh, modern and simple look in mind to highlight the playful icons that reflect some of our iconic menu items.” No more, no less. The imagery is clear and the word “iconic” is a key point here—meaning, you know this food so there’s no hiding involved.
  2. One does not avoid “shame” by carrying a giant image of what they’re eating.
    Image Courtesy McDonald's
    Image Courtesy McDonald’s

    I would argue a simple logical fallacy here: when a giant burger is emblazoned across the side of the bag, you’re not in it to avoid ridicule. “The new packaging is part of our new brand vision that puts more focus on lovin’,” added Hickey. “This new focus will inspire everything we do moving forward.”

From the mindset of both public relations and brand marketing, I applaud McDonald’s head-on handling of its recent public image issues, food source criticisms, and stock market performance by making strides in transparency and positivity. The brand’s newly-implemented focus on “lovin’” over “hatin’” says it all—as does the playful messaging displayed on the sides of the new bags. Such messaging includes a simple but powerful equation: “half full > half empty.”

“Lately, the balance of lovin’ and hatin’ seems off,” commented McDonald’s CMO Deborah Wahl in a statement addressing the overall brand transformation.

Wahl is spot-on, but I’d take it a step further and invite those who contend that McDonald’s has an image problem to take a look at this new Big Mac commercial spot. Does that sound like a brand whose problem is shame?

“We’re listening more and assuming less,” added Wahl. Perhaps we should all do the same. After all, McDonald’s drink fountains don’t serve Haterade.

A version of this article appeared on the BatesMeron Sweet Design Blog.