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? LT