Dressed for Success

Will McDonald's staffers lose the attitude if they're dressed in hip baggy pants and hoodies instead of dismal perma-press duds? That's an $80M experiment the company says it's now willing to make. This week's Advertising Age reports that Steve Stoute, a former music executive, has been chosen to connect McDonald's with designers for a total image makeover. Among the names bandied about: Russell Simmons, Tommy Hilfiger, and P. Diddy.

While part of Mickey D's strategy is to instill a little pride in its burger jockeys, the other is to enhance the company's brand image. "Employees are becoming more and more important every day in delivering a brand experience," says Landor's Allen Adamson. This isn't a new idea. Kate Spade was tapped to design uniforms for Song Airline's flight attendants and W Hotels hired Kenneth Cole to outfit its employees.

But some critics are already carping. Robert Passikoff of Brand Keys says employee uniforms add a paltry one-half of one percent contribution to loyalty and profitability. A "clean" — but presumably dowdy — uniform delivers a 1 percent contribution.

Still, sounds like sour grapes to me. Brian Collins, brand guru at Ogilvy and Mather, says when he first came to the company, the lobby reception staff was dressed like "zoo attendants." After a hip uniform redesign, they looked like the concierge staff at a hip hotel. One day shortly after the makeover, an employee took Collins aside to thank him. "Now I can go to Starbucks with my daughter and look like I work at Ogilvy," the guy said.

Can you put a price tag on pride? Is this a worthwhile investment? Or is McDonald's squandering shareholders' money?

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  • Sarah Martel

    I'm not sure how many out there are familiar with In-N-Out Burger on the West Coast, but I have never seen more enthusiastic employees working at a burger joint. They are incredibly busy, but I've never had a bad experience there. In fact, I have often wanted to pull the manager aside and compliment them on their amazing customer service. But, their uniforms leave a lot to be desired. They wear the strange looking caps, white pants and shirts, and red aprons with a huge safety pin that resembles the pins used on old cloth diapers. It seems that the company morale is not in the uniform, but in something greater and it makes me think this move by McDonald's might prove futile and costly.

  • Annemarie Osborne

    While I agree that how we dress influences how we feel and how others perceive us, it is an external manifestation rather than an internal change.

    What is McDonalds trying to achieve by changing its costumes? Has anyone queried front-line workers about their observations and insights? What about customers? Often, leaders make decisions in a vacuum, without inviting comments from those who deal with the day-to-day challenges.

    If this is a reaction to the infamous Paris Hilton commercials, I hope that McDonalds considers its customers and sustains a measure of good taste and decorum or their carefully crafted image as a family-friendly environment may be permanently tarnished.

  • Simit Patel

    Personally I think McDonald's would be better off spending their efforts at automating as much of the unskilled labor as they can, and with those savings, creating a new class of employees that not only dressed differently but performed different work functionality that enhanced the experience. Clothes are a good start, but I think to truly win the experience game the work itself needs to change.

  • j gregg gautereaux

    Ask anyone that has darkened the door of CAA (creative artists agency) lately and McDonald's will get an answer to their vexing $80M experiment.

    Michael Ovitz demanded that every employee -- from IT to reception, partners to executive assistants -- sport the ubiquitous garb of euroclad studio execs. The bespoke life never seemed so luxe.

    Looking good helps an employee feel good about working where they do. And, if clothes make the man, then label conscious fastfood shift supervisors will most assuredly wear their new duds with aplomb.