Namah Chawla
Points of View

Decoding McDonald’s 'logo swap': to what extent should brands play with their digital assets?

McDonald's has fetched a lot of buzz - some good, some bad - thanks to a 'new' logo created by a popular TikToker recently. How sacrosanct are logos in a digital era?

For a brand, its name and logo are important assets as they set the brand’s image, solidifies its identity and are essential for a brand’s long-standing success. However, going by a recent trend, some global brands have been altering their names and logos. This has led to quite a bit of conversation on social media.

A recent example is that of McDonald’s. The global fast-food giant changed its iconic golden arches logo with the one created by TikTok influencer Emily Zugay, across its social media channels.

Also Read: McDonald’s replaces its iconic golden arches with a new logo

Decoding McDonald’s 'logo swap': to what extent should brands play with their digital assets?

In the past, brands altered their logos to either grab eyeballs for a new launch, or show support for a social movement. McDonald’s hasn’t yet revealed the reason behind this change. According to experts, certain rules need to be followed when brands undertake such an exercise. This might seem promising in the short-term and provide the brand with instant gratification, i.e., increased engagement on social media. But it may not necessarily lead to any solid long-term returns.

It is true that names and logos are no longer ‘touch me not’ assets for brands. To stay in sync with the latest trends, brands sometimes end up tweaking them. However, what’s unique in McDonald’s case is that it’s not every day that you see a brand changing its iconic asset because of an influencer’s opinion.

The brand may want to recognise the influencer’s work, and that is fine. But comparing it to an agency’s work may not be right, feel some experts. What an agency does for a brand is based on extensive research. The influencer is just another outsider, whose views may resonate with the brand, or even go viral, but might not ensure credibility, goes the argument.

While McDonald’s has credited and tagged Zugay across its social media channels, it could not be ascertained, at the time of filing this story, whether she was compensated for the effort or whether it's a case of a brand taking ownership of fan art.

The McDonald’s move brings us to pertinent questions, like as custodians of their logos, should brands be more cautious while altering them? Is creative work done by influencers taking precedence over what agencies create for brands? Can lesser-known brands afford to undertake such stunts?

afaqs! reached out to four industry experts, and here’s what they had to say.

Edited excerpts:

Jay Morzaria, group creative manager, Schbang

From the school I belong to, a brand logo is a sacred asset. There are rules about where you can use it, how, and in which form you must use it. I believe that brand teams must be extremely careful even when an agency is doing the rebranding, let alone a TikToker.

Jay Morzaria, Schbang
Jay Morzaria, Schbang

Without an iota of doubt, precedence must be given to the agency (rather than work created by influencers). An agency is like your wife and knows exactly who you are, and how deep into the water you are. It has also worked hand in hand with you over the years to see you evolve.

"An agency is like your wife and knows exactly who you are, and how deep into the water you are. It has also worked hand in hand with you over the years to see you evolve."
Jay Morzaria, Schbang

An influencer, on the other hand, is like a temporary attraction that brings in a sense of adrenaline rush and adventure. They seduce with their charm (following) and tend to make radical suggestions, which would shake things up. While such prospects may seem promising in the short-term, long-term progress can only happen with partners who have always been a part of the journey with you.

Altering the logo is certainly a way to grab attention, but it also depends on how it is done. For example, a user had pointed out similarities between a Good Day biscuit and the Spotify logo. The brand used that as an opportunity and made the picture posted by the user as its official DP for a day or two. Then, it reverted to the original one. The entire thing was done in jest and the intent was well conveyed.

In the case of McDonald's, the intent is missing and, to top it all, the arches are so iconic that one almost feels offended if someone tampers with them. To change the logo suddenly basis a TikTok influencer's visualisation, feels abrupt and incongruous, unless there is something more coming. (I heard some chatter about McDonald's doing this because it wanted to introduce onion rings.)

As far as smaller brands are concerned, I would personally recommend against such stunts. First, build brand equity and trust among your audience, and probably think of doing such stunts later.

Harikrishnan Pillai, CEO and co-founder, TheSmallBigIdea

We are in an era where if you are a brand that appeals to Gen Z, then being a maverick and a non-conformist is a brand persona you have to have. And doing things, like changing the logo for a day because a TikToker felt so, is one such move. It brings the brand into the consideration set of Gen Z’s ‘things to post about today’, which, in the digital world, is some solid word of mouth.

Harikrishnan Pillai, TheSmallBigIdea
Harikrishnan Pillai, TheSmallBigIdea

An influencer is a creator with a dedicated follower base. When a brand decides to collaborate, or use something that a creator creates, the brand gains access and favourability from a new audience set. It is not a creative unit or a brand identity, rather the play is pure audience exposure and gaining off each other’s equity.

Additionally, brand consistency is not just about visual imagery. The personality is more than that. Like I said earlier, brands are taking on a maverick, non-conformist, crazy and geeky personality, and they are being ‘consistent’ with that.

"Brands are taking on a maverick, non-conformist, crazy and geeky personality, and they are being ‘consistent’ with that."
Harikrishnan Pillai, TheSmallBigIdea

Himanshu Arya, founder & CEO, Grapes Digital

It’s great to see creativity being recognised on new platforms. TikTok has become the go-to platform for new trends. Zugay, who has gone viral for her mind-blowing designs, led McDonald's to also experiment. Changing logos for a temporary period is a smart move, as it helps brands to gain quick attention.

Himanshu Arya, Grapes Digital
Himanshu Arya, Grapes Digital

McDonald’s is known for changing its logos from time to time, be it on the trend or supporting a cause. It is the most creative, cost-effective and bold way to draw eyeballs to your communication. And it works, because we are now talking about it. Agencies have well-skilled design teams and that’s why brands prefer them, when it comes to creating a logo. Also, the brand can’t play with the logo in every campaign, otherwise, the audience will not be able to recall the identity of the brand.

These types of things are done occasionally. Every brand can't afford to do this, as it's a privilege enjoyed by only big and established ones. If a bigger brand experiments with its brand identity, it becomes a trend, whereas smaller brands can't afford such risk. Playing with the brand logo just for the sake of it, is not a good idea. There is a saying which I think perfectly fits in this situation, "If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it."

"If a bigger brand experiments with its brand identity, it becomes a trend, whereas smaller brands can't afford such risk."
Himanshu Arya, Grapes Digital

O.R. Radhakrishnan, creative consultant and screenwriter

Today, anyone with a few followers and a mobile phone with preloaded editing apps, is a ‘content creator’. The problem is not that they are spitting hundreds of ‘assets’ in their sleep. But that all of these are considered as ‘assets’. And thanks to the digital medium, all these ‘assets’ get to see the light of day. Whereas most of them should have been deleted the minute they were created.

O.R. Radhakrishnan
O.R. Radhakrishnan

Agencies are fat, expensive machines for a reason. They have a proven track record of creating brands. There are some stunning and spectacular pieces of work that have been done on this very brand (McDonald’s) by very renowned ad agencies. They spend weeks and months before even letting out a single headline. Each word is meticulously crafted. Every font and colour is carefully chosen.

"Agencies are fat, expensive machines for a reason. They have a proven track record of creating brands."
O.R. Radhakrishnan, creative consultant and screenwriter

What the brand has just done is for instant gratification. It saw an influencer already having an ‘x’ amount of followers. So, the change can drive instant followers, or people visiting the brand’s page. This is not a long-standing solution and does not imply any long-term gains for the brand.