Read on esquire.com
McDonald’s is equal parts pop, kitsch, and nostalgia. The act of choosing McDonald’s over another “fast-casual” restaurant like Chipotle, Five Guys, or Shake Shack seems ironic and self-aware. String all of those adjectives together. What do you get? A hipster, more or less.
Hipsterdom, like McDonald’s, is dead. It died years ago, back when Walmart and Target started selling skinny jeans. Nothing can be hipster anymore because everything is hipster. Look around, particularly at this very moment, as we swing back into summer. Finance bros now outnumber the “alt crowd” at major music festivals, which, themselves, have slowly de-evolved from an oasis of art and rebellion into an ant parade of sweaty tank tops and flip flops and mini backpacks with protruding selfie sticks. Do you like the Black Keys? Of course you do! Everybody likes the Black Keys! Everybody is a little bit hipster, and “hipster” is no longer stigmatized. And all of this is why McDonald’s—slowly, weirdly, bafflingly—has tried to hipsterize itself over the past year and change.
Earlier this week, McDonald’s CEO Steve Easterbrook said that his corporation will become a “modern progressive burger company.” What does modern progressivism look like at global scale? On an aesthetic level, it means a slimmer, younger, mildly-handsomer Hamburglar. He has a half-beard. His cape is gone. His fedora is cocked just so. His 19th century prison garb has been replaced with a simple striped shirt, the kind they sell at Urban Outfitters or Uniqlo. He wears a trench coat, cargo pants, and fire red sneakers. He is sexy.
The Hipster Hamburglar follows Hipster Ronald, whom the company unveiled almost exactly a year ago. Hipster Ronald trades his sleeveless jumpsuit for a simple vest. His oversized red boots look more like Dr. Marten’s than clown shoes. Hipster Ronald poses for photos on a distressed wood floor while standing in front of a weathered brick wall. Hipster Ronald does not hang out with the kids in the ball pit, no—Hipster Ronald is meant to fit in with the millennials…
Such as the ones in the new McDonald’s ad campaign! Check out these friends grooving to throwback R&B while chowing down on Chicken Select Tenders. One friend has dark-rimmed glasses. One particularly handsome friend is wearing a tam. One female friend is wearing a Marsala fedora (Marsala being the Pantone color of the year). They’re chilling in the parking lot, eatin’ Donsies, snappin’ selfies…
Exactly like Hipster Ronald at South by Southwest! McDonald’s erected a pop-up brand experience at this year’s music/film/everything festival in Austin, Texas, and the company drew criticism before slinging even a solitary burger, when the indie band Ex Cops revealed that they had been asked to perform under the massive McDonald’s tent for free. After requisite Internet outrage, McDonald’s quickly reversed its course and promised to pay its performers, but the brand damage was already done. Those who did find themselves wandering around the McDonald’s event in Austin were greeted by life-size statues of Hipster Ronald holding a fake phone and snapping an imaginary selfie.
So, what’s next? “I will not shy away from resetting this business,” Easterbrook says in a new video kicking off the alleged McTurnaround. Whatever role hipsterism plays into the future of one of America’s most iconic brands remains to be seen. Maybe James Franco will help. But perhaps instead of latching onto the last gasping breaths of a tired trend, McDonald’s can just fully embrace normcore. Which would be the smartest move of all, because McDonald’s is already normcore as fuck.
But the breakfast menu still rules.