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McJunk

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The UK’s gutters and hedgerows will soon see new graphics on the McJunk strewn there. Below is a link to an article I wrote for Eye magazine blog about an uncritical design press showcasing the new designs, asking whether well respected blogs are just becoming advertising hoardings for big brands trying to ingratiating themselves with those working in the creative industries.

Gutter press on Eye blog

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Vector illustration and chunky lower case type make for the new look reductive graphics adorning McDonald’s take away packaging. Created by Leo Burnett design agancy in Chicago, (I’m currently unsure if this packaging has made it to the UK yet), it appears to be another opportunity missed.

I think it’s fair to say that McDonald’s has an image problem. Well, it has many image problems actually, but I’m specifically talking about the one that glares at us all from roadside gutters and courtryside hedgerows. Any repeat visitors to Dubdog will know that I’m talking litter, a particular bugbear of mine. The world over, McDonald’s is the top brand, or one of the top brands, found on fast food litter, (see this report from Australia, and this from the USA, and this by the UK’s Keep Britian Tidy). I first noticed it some 14 years ago and it prompted my McJunk project. McJunk was an exploration into the relationship between graphic design and disposable culture through a photographic study of McDonald’s litter, (download the introduction to the McJunk photobook as a PDF from here, or visit the McJunk website).

Discovering this new McDonald’s packaging today prompted me to hunt around the Internet for current research into littering and I found some key reports by Keep Britain Tidy, ( * links at bottom of post). In these I came across two specific points of interest that relate to my own graphic design related research:

  • Firstly: through focus group discussions it is claimed that people would be less likely to buy a brand that they saw being littered. While this could be one of a whole host of reasons why McDonald’s had a bad year in 2014, I’m somewhat sceptical—what someone states in a focus group in the company of others is not necessarily the reality of what they actually do. But even if this were true, and it makes business sense to take seriously such market research, you would have thought McDonald’s would take note and try to do more to convince people not to litter;
  • Secondly: many of those surveyed by Keep Britain Tidy stated that they thought the Tidyman logo made little difference to people’s littering habits. This I can well believe. Usually sidelined within any graphic design hierarchy—often on the bottom of any packet—as iconic as I think Tidyman is, the Keep Britain Tidy report suggests that as a nation we have become used to it if indeed we notice it at all.

And herein lies my major problem with this McDonald’s redesign. When the graphics applied to something do not affect whether someone is going to buy a product or not—McDonald’s takeaways are not bought off a shelf; you don’t see the packaging until a BigMac has been ordered, ‘cooked’ and handed over—graphics are technically not needed for marketing purposes. They are usually only there to encourage brand recognition or as decoration. Therefore, if you rethought the side of a take away bag, there is a perfect opportunity for McDonald’s to challenge their litter problem by educating consumers through graphic design. But alas McDonald’s chose not to take this opportunity.

As mentioned in one of the Keep Britian Tidy reports that I read, it is a depressing thought that litter problems will only get worse over the coming years with further public sector cuts. Such cuts mean local councils have to decide what services to shelve, and I suspect many authorities will rightly decide important issues such as social care trump litter patrols. And unfortunately public sector cuts are likely to continue. For regardless of who wins the UK general election this year, both Labour and Conservative have declared their intentions to continue with these cuts. Even if we have another coalition government come May, which is the most likely scenario, one of these two parties is likely to hold the balance of power.

A couple of years ago I put McJunk on a hiatus. With this new packaging launch and after reading several Keep Britian Tidy reports, it looks like it might be time to resurrect the project.

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McJunk, as found, on Shingle Street beach, Suffolk. Pre-2015 redesign.

Keep Britain Tidy 2013 Litter Report 

Keep Britain Tidy 2013: When it comes to litter, which side of the fence are you on report findings

Since leaving Facebook a while ago I’ve been meaning to update or remove other online presences of mine. As a result I have now spent some of this morning on a purge. I am only notifying Dubdog readers here in case trawling through previous posts you find some links are now broken.

With my long time project McJunk on hiatus, I’ve updated its website to take account of this and deleted McJunk’s Facebook page and Tumblr submission site. Unfortunately, as McJunk on Tumblr was the first Tumblr I set up it was automatically my ‘primary site’, which meant I couldn’t delete the site with out obliterating all my other Tumblr projects, (it seems crazy Tumblr doesn’t allow you to switch ‘primary sites’). I don’t regret loosing most of these other projects as none were particularly useful to me now, except that is for my type and print publication research archive The Small Letter. That said, I was never overly happy with the format of Tumblr for this archive so I bit the bullet and hit delete. I plan to resurrect The Small Letter, or a variation there of, at another time in another online space in the future when I have a little more time on my hands.

Along with these changes, the McJunk hardback book is now no longer available to buy so if you do own a copy it is now a very rare thing indeed. However, the essay and accompanying presentation are still available to download for free from my Academia.edu profile.

Lastly, I have also removed my ‘archive’ portfolio page from this site. It had moved further and further away from representing what my current interests and activities are.

It’s not everyday your local Tory MP big’s you up in the local newspaper. But to my surprise, I found my McJunk project featured in MP Ben Gummer’s weekly Ipswich Star article yesterday.

While I’m not sure Ben has completely seen he point of McJunk, (see McJunk website here), and I’m certainly not sure that the free advertising McDonald’s are getting from this is appropriate, I can’t be too harsh on the man as I expect that Ben’s love of beef burgers is a family thing that he is unable to distance himself from.

McGummer

Ipswich Star, Friday 25 July 2014

This week I published number 1000 image of McJunk to Flickr. This is a noteworthy occasion, because at the publication of the McJunk photo book in January 2011, I had only just uploaded 500 images. Therefore, in less than one and a half years, I’ve doubled the number of photographs of McDonald’s litter it had previously taken me 9 years to collect. It is difficult to tell whether this is because there is more McJunk out there, or because since the publication of the book, I’ve been more proactive in capturing examples I happen upon.

Whatever the reason, I’ve decided to take a hiatus from McJunk to concentrate my spare time on some other project ideas I’ve been scribbling in notebooks recently. To mark this breathing space, I’ve decided to publicly publish the essay I wrote to accompany the book. I will continue to take submissions to the McJunk project and post them to Tumblr, and the book will still be available—see the McJunk website for details. The McFacebook page will, likewise, continue. And if you are interested in seeing what 1000 piece of McDonald’s litter looks like, please visit the Flickr set.

The essay can be downloaded from the Dubdog Archive page

McJunk number 1000

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