McDonald's & Burger King. Advertising History from the 1960s to Today

Bachelor Thesis, 2015

42 Pages, Grade: 2

Samuel Fulmer (Author)


Table of Contents

1 Introduction

2 Histroy of Advertising, the Diachronic Perspective and Methods

3 Analysis
3.1 McDonald’s
3.2 Burger King
3.3 Other Fast Food Restaurants

4 Comparison: McDonald’s & Burger King

5 Conclusion: the Contemporary State and the Future of Advertising

Works Cited

1 Introduction

They are in our everyday life, on our phones when we look for a new app to install, on television while watching our favorite show, on our notebooks when we check our emails, or even when we walk down the street to get our morning coffee—advertisements are everywhere and one cannot escape or ignore them. Yet, as much as pop-ups, billboards and commercial breaks crowd our lives, in a way, they do not bother us at all, and that is the cunning beauty of advertising. It should get the point across, making us aware of something, telling us about a new product, convincing us to purchase an item, by subtly trying to persuade us that we need it when in reality we do not, whatever it is.

Advertisements can come in many forms and genres, they can be a poem, they can be a little short story, a catchy jingle, or just a picture; whatever form they might take, the message of persuading the consumer to buy the advertised product makes this accumulation of genres a genre in itself. It, moreover, is important to mention that who s and where s of advertising are factors that have to be taken into consideration when drafting an advertisement for a product. What is the product and who could benefit from it? Where should the advertisement to the product appear so it can be easily seen by the target group? How can the features of the product be made easy to read and easy to understand, and furthermore and more importantly, urge the target group to purchase it?—here is where language comes into play.

Word play, puns, adjectives that are associated with positive aspects of the products, repetition, etc. are all methods to catch a potential consumer’s eye. However, not only should the text be persuasive and clever, but the illustrations, or images paired with text font, size and color have to appeal to the target group in order to make a fleeting billboard one passes during a bus ride stick out or awaken attention.

What should also be taken into consideration is that advertisements live from trends that occur in society. They have to be current to the situation, which almost makes old advertisement look like little time capsules. The spirit of the time is captured and one can see what fashion might have been a trend a couple of decades ago, what everyone was drinking, what the technology might have been like and, furthermore, how language was used. Advertisements of a specific time period might portray an artificial image of a specific era as they are constructed to appeal to specific target groups; however, they still can carry importance in giving insight to the society at the time. An issue that could also occur is to pander to only one target group and with that completely ignoring another or even debase them. It is a tight rope advertising agencies have to walk in order to meet all requirements and hit the right nerves and always be at the pulse of the times.

This thesis will mainly look at two fast food restaurants, McDonald’s and Burger King, and will look at several advertisements from the 1960s to today. It will analyze the advertisements in terms of linguistic structures and will look at how advertisements have developed over the decades.

2 Histroy of Advertising, the Diachronic Perspective and Methods

Linguists have divided the time frames of advertising into different groups. In her book Werbesprache: Ein Arbeitsbuch, Nina Janich makes the distinction between the non-industrial phase, which she classifies as the time from antiquity until the middle ages, the pre-industrial phase, which stands for the 16th until the 18th century and the industrial phase that comprises the time from the 19th century up to today (Janich, 273). To depict how far in the past advertisements have been a part of people’s lives, the illustration below shows an advertisement for gladiators and poets in Pompeii.

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Other scholars, such as Manfred Görlach, who coins the swift and vast expansion of text type advertisements as the “first heydays”, marks the time period of such from the beginning of the 18th century up to the 1830s, and even further, to the 1890s. He goes on to mention that “the function of the relevant texts changed dramatically” as a result of print advertisements not being the only medium to be used to get customers to purchase goods. The 1930s and onward added radio, television and film to the landscape of advertising and thus changed the face of print advertising and its methods to persuade consumers to buy products (Görlach, 86). Furthermore, in regards to dividing the different eras of advertising into categories, linguist Greg Myers incorporates the war periods into his classification of advertising history. He includes the 1890s until World War I, the 1920s and war periods in between, and goes on from the 1960s up to recent times.

Moreover, what Janich and other linguists have found in their research, is, that advertisements in the 17th and 18th century focused solely on product and retailer. The customer was generally not addressed in those advertisements. Thusly, the language was non-petitionary. It was still very respectful, it was still very polite and detailed: modal verbs (should, could), the superlative form of adjectives, compound and loanwords, and full and long sentences make out the body text of advertisements from the 17th and 18th century. With the industrialization and the therefore generated mass production, a shift in language and design started in the 19th century. Packaging, branding and trademarks became essential to advertising products. Due to the rising competition between companies, brand names and co-operations, the advertising language changed. Long sentences became shorter. The syntax matched more and more the style of a telegram. Moreover, the petitionary, appellative, function, that was non-existent in the 17th century, became prominent by the 1890s and questions and imperatives found their way into advertisements. Furthermore, the introduction of fictive dialogue in order to appeal to the customers on a personal and emotional level, were introduced (Janich, 277). However, not only became the telegram style writing more and more ‘household’ in advertising, the employment of rhymes, puns, catchphrases, elaborated parallelism, word plays, among many other linguistic ways to appeal to the masses, was a big step to changing the face of advertising (Myers, 26-27). From then on, targeting a specific group of buyers and customers, be it housewives or children, is something that is still done to this day.

Advertisements are there to pander to a specific demographic and with the target audience, advertisements change, too. They follow trends; they appeal to the social status of a group and advertise products that have a high demand. To see how these social changes affect advertising, linguists have to conduct different research methods in order to sift through the large corpus of a great number of advertisements. Two fundamental approaches to historic advertising research are the diachronic and the synchronic research.

[T]he study of changes and developments in advertising over time—the diachronic dimension of advertising […] historical studies, which by definition adopt a diachronic perspective, have tended to focus on a particular, narrow time frame […]; key advertising individuals […]; or specific products or brands […] or have taken an institutional perspective on the evolution of advertising in society […]. In contrast, diachronic studies that focus on the advertisements themselves, such as Pollay’s (1985) groundbreaking description of changes in the size and layout of ad elements, have remained the exception rather than the rule […]. (Phillips and McQuarrie 2)

While synchronic research delves into the corpus of a specific period of time and only looks at the development and changes of that time period without cross sectioning with other time periods, diachronic research of advertisements delves into a corpus that includes advertisements from more than one periods of time and subdivides these into sections, into decades. Since there is a large amount of print-advertisements and radio and television advertisements did not appear until the early 19th century, researchers mostly look at print-ads. Print-ads have the historical depth that is necessary to be included in historical research in order to approach a representative conclusion. The vast amount of samples makes it easy for a researcher to spot the different trends throughout time, the spirit of a specific era or the linguistic influences of a specific time period. It must be taken into consideration, however, that there are always difficulties when it comes to reconstructing a specific time period with the samples of print-advertisements at hand. Not only needs the cultural, social and historical background to be taken into consideration, but also the different strategies in advertising, as it is dependent on what type of product is advertised (food, cleaning products), where and how the advertisement is published (newspaper, fashion magazine, billboard) and who the target groups are (housewives, bachelors).

“[A] historical linguist will for his analysis, then, have to piece together and attempt to correlate two sets of parameters or features” (Görlach 85), states Görlach. With the historical aspect in mind, how do the vocabulary, the syntax, the typography and spelling correlate in an ad? To narrow all these parameters down, as it is a wide range of different features to analyze, linguists have divided the research focus on three elements: product specific, publisher specific, and company/producer specific. In her book Die historische Entwicklung der Werbesprache, Rosemarie Fährmann has looked at the advertising history of three specific companies: Nivea, Persil and Mercedes Benz, from 1907 to 1997. She employed a product specific focus on her research and, therefore, applied Janich’s model to comprehensively analyze her findings. The model divides the advertisements into different sections, such as the structure of the ad (slogan, typography, etc.), the content (denotation, connotation, etc.), the interaction between illustrations in the ad and the content, and, which is important when conducting a historical research, the external factors that came into play when the advertisement was conceived and published, such as market situation and selling conditions of that specific time. Also, the product itself and the target group (Fährmann, 57).

Sabine Gieszinger employed a similar strategy of structuring her diachronic research for her book The History of Advertising Language: The Advertisements in The Times from 1788 to 1996. She, however, focused on a publisher specific view-point of the advertisements as she solely focused on ads in The Times. Both, Fährmann and Gieszinger, based their researches on three levels that will be also employed in the analysis of the advertisements chosen for this paper: the formal level, the semantic level and the pragmatic level. On the formal aspects of ads, the word density, length and size of the adverts are explored. The semantic level, which looks at the topics in the advertisement and how those relate to the product, its features or the target audience it tries to address with the frequent use of adjectives, word plays or the pronoun ‘you’ in order to create the illusion that the advertisement speaks to one directly. On the pragmatic level, the overall appeal of the ad is looked at: what is the informational function of the advertisement? What are the techniques to create direction for the target audience? What are the offers and promises? How do illustrations and the text collaborate to create an appellative function?

This paper will look at print-advertisements of the fast food chains McDonald’s and Burger King throughout the decades and will employ the different methods of historical research to analyze the different changes that advertising strategies went through.

3 Analysis

3.1 McDonald’s

Founded in California in 1940, McDonald’s has not had its groundbreaking streak until eight years later when the brothers Richard and Maurice McDonald’s thought of a way to implement self-service and quickly prepared hamburgers to their customers. After that, the restaurant with the ‘golden arches’, its trademark, became increasingly famous year after year. The restaurant became more popular and turned slowly into a chain, which needed to be maintained. The help of clever and persuasive advertisements would bring in consumers and make McDonald’s the biggest fast food chain today.

Looking back at a McDonald’s ad from July 9, 1963, it is made clear that most of advertising in the 1960s had a much larger density in regards to text and illustration than what we see in advertisements today. Everything on the ad is almost described in detail to the customer.

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“Tomorrow, Wednesday, July 10th

Help celebrate the opening of the 500th McDonald’s in the United States . . .


Celebration starts at 10:30 a.m.

See Miss Toledo (Betty Jean Smith) cut a ribbon of money . . . (to be donated to the Community Chest)

FREE orchids to the first 100 mothers!

FREE balloons for the kids!

Plenty of parking . . . no car haps . . . no tipping – just the tastiest food in town of prices that please! Bring the family in and discover the pleasure of dining at McDonald’s”

Formally, the advertisement contains many words that fill up the entire page. The headline “Grand Opening 500th Store” is boldly centered on top of the ad, above an illustration of a McDonald’s restaurant. To have an illustration of the restaurant was quite common in advertisements of the 1950s and 1960s. The body copy of the ad urges the population of Toledo to come and celebrate the town’s fifth McDonald’s. The standing detail at the bottom of the advertisement lists the different restaurants’ addresses for the potential consumer. The advertisement, however how heavily loaded with information to the grand opening and illustrations, still manages to not seem too crowded and leaves a little ‘breathing space’ in the eye of the reader. To catch all important details regarding Toledo’s fifth McDonald’s one has to look a little closer at the ad, however, just scanning the ad while reading a newspaper still gives one a quick idea of what the ad tries to achieve: to make an event out of the 500th store opening.

Semantically, the advertisement has many adjectives to offer, especially positive to the consumer. There is the description of the fries in capital letters (“CRISP GOLDEN FRENCH FRIES”), what the burgers at McDonald’s consist of (“100% PURE BEEF HAMBURGERS”) and the beverage to make the menu complete (“GOOD TRIPLE THICK SHAKE”). To emphasize the good deal one can make at McDonald’s, the adjective “complete” is used to make the price of 47¢ seem very low and the meal therefore affordable for the consumer and their family.

Speaking of family and the functionality of the advertisement, McDonald’s tries to appeal to American family values. The ad notes that the first hundred mothers that “help celebrate” Toledo’s fifth McDonald’s will receive “FREE orchids”. Children are welcomed at the event with “FREE balloons”. The advertisement reads like an invitation to a party with directions to the party location more than a conventional ad. Even the announcement of Miss Toledo cutting a ribbon made out of money at the grand opening gives the advertisement a kind of neighborly exclusivity as the town’s people of Toledo are invited to be a part of this big event. This is again emphasized when it says that the money will be donated to the “Community Chest”, giving the consumer a sense of belonging, team spirit and solidarity. Thusly, it ties in with the aforementioned American family values and even broadens the spectrum to the American way of life, especially when referring to a McDonald’s meal as an “ALL-AMERICAN MEAL” in the advertisement.

To compare the 1963 advertisement to an advertisement from last year, one big change can be noted: the word density is low.

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The formality of the advertisement from 2014 is very simple, yet effective in its function, which will be mentioned in a moment. Formally, the advertisement consists of pictures, the slogan and only four words that make up for the body of the text. The new slogan that was introduced in 2003, “I’m lovin’ it”, sits beneath the McDonald’s logo and is followed by three images, almost reminding one of looking at a 16:9 television ad. The three images: a potato, a pack of French fries and next to it, the just about empty pack with only one French fry left in it. Above the images, the words read “before”, “after” and “right after” respectively. Semantically, it is a very clever advertisement as it only consists of narrative text type markers. It, in a way, tells the customer a story and almost mocks a beauty products campaign in telling what happens to a potato at McDonald’s.

Functionally, this simple ad depicts that the French fries at McDonald’s are irresistible. The order of fries is, “right” after it was handed to the customer, almost empty—it is a way to communicate to the reader of the ad that the French fries at McDonald’s are delicious. Another subject that is mentioned by the “before” picture is the image of a real potato. Recent McDonald’s advertisements are trying to appeal to customers that lead or want to lead a healthier lifestyle.

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„Echter McDonald’s-Geschmack für alle:

Hamburger, Double-Hamburger, Hamburger Royal TS und Single-, Double- oder Triple- Cheeseburger sowie unsere herrlichen Curly Fries gibt’s jetzt auch glutenfrei… Also: Bis bald!“

In this German advertisement, McDonald’s advertises that customers have the choice to order gluten-free burger buns for their meal. The restaurant chain is offering its consumers a healthy alternative, as a gluten-free diet is supposed to have healthy outcomes and contribute to weight loss. Moreover, people that have a gluten allergy are helped with the gluten-free option and can still enjoy their meals at McDonald’s.

The headline of the advertisement already discloses everything one needs to know: “ENDLICH: glutenfrei”—finally gluten-free. The color of the advertisement is light and earthly in tone as it shows, what seems to be, a light wooden floor on which the meal is sitting. The “finally” suggests that there must have been a big demand on gluten-free buns and that customers have long-awaited this option—and McDonald’s has heard them and cared to react and offer a solution. No one is excluded from enjoying a McDonald’s meal anymore, as the text beneath the image reads: “Echter McDonald’s Geschmack für alle”—“True McDonald’s taste for everyone”.

The growing concern about processed food that can have negative effects on one’s health was paired with the concern that fast food advertisements are targeted towards children. To impressionable minds, fast food is the only good and tasty food since the advertisements say so in colorful images, sometimes supported by a child’s favorite cartoon character. In their article “Fast-Food Consumption and the Ban on Advertising Targeting Children”, Tirtha Dhar and Kathy Baylis mention some interesting facts:

Similar concerns that children are not able to process advertising rationally and the American Psychology Association’s recommendation led the Quebec government to introduce the Quebec Consumer Protection Act, which bans advertising targeting children under the age of 13 years, in 1978. The Law came into effect two years later on April 30, 1980. […] The law applies to both, print and electronic media.” (Dhar and Baylis 800)

To avoid any more bans of advertisements and to appeal to a health-conscious target group, McDonald’s took it upon itself to work on a campaign that would advertise their salads in 1987, which will be discussed in the next pages.

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Reading through the body text, it is filled with adjectives that are associated with healthy living and quality produce, such as “fresh”, “cool”, “crisp”, or words that represent a nutritious meal, such as “vitamins, minerals and nutrients”. Something that also catches one’s eye is the consultation of experts on the matter of healthy living. “Because experts agree vegetables and greens are at their nutritional best when they’re fresh”—it shows competence and credibility. Concluding the ad is a phone number to an information center if one has more questions about the products at McDonald’s. These advertisements are a clever way to create transparency to the consumers. The ingredients are fresh, the salads are nutritious and “good for you”; and if one is still skeptical, they can call the number because McDonald’s does not want to keep their consumer in the dark. It is a good way to include the consumer into the discussion and give them the option to choose if they want to live healthily through McDonald’s.

Another campaign that was launched in February of 2003 reminded the McDonald’s consumers that there is more to McDonald’s than just hamburgers and soft drinks.

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Cleverly photo shopped images depict a burger made out of tomatoes instead of burger buns and a cucumber with a straw, imitating a soft drink. The advertisers try to shift the focus of McDonald’s just being a ‘burger joint’ to something more that also offers healthy alternatives to the consumers. The tongue-in-cheek phrase “Now serving salads” adds to the humor of reminding consumers that salads can also be purchased, and, furthermore, appealing to people who think that only burgers are sold at McDonald’s.

The need to appeal to everyone like in these successful advertisement campaigns has not always worked to the company’s favor in the past. In a The Atlantic article, Lenika Cruz writes:

In the 1970s, something special began happening in American advertising. At the tail end of the civil-rights movement, the industry began to move away from its decades-long habit of portraying African Americans almost exclusively in positions of servitude or inferiority, as props in ads aimed at white audiences. By the 1970s, companies such as McDonald’s and Coca-Cola began increasing the racial diversity depicted in their campaigns. (Cruz 1)


When you’re looking for a different place to have dinner, check out McDonald’s. You don’t have to get dressed up, there’s no tipping and the kids love it. You can relax and get down with good food that won’t keep you waitin’. Dinnertimin’ or anytimin’, going out is easy at McDonald’s.”

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The advertisement, in traditional McDonald’s manner, still caters to family values. Only in this case it tries to make sure it appeals to an African-American family, or what the responsible advertising agency imagined an African-American family to be like. On a formal level, the advertisements of McDonald’s are structured more coherently in this decade. There is now an illustration or picture on top of the print-ad and a block of text beneath it (or vice versa). The standing detail is completely gone. Semantically, the pronoun ‘you’ is being used frequently in order to address the reader, creating a sense of individualization. Phrases like “get down with good food” are trying to create a more slang-type of tone. An interesting way to imitate informal speech can be seen in the g-dropping (“dinnertimin’”, “anytimin’”, “waitin’”). Pragmatically, the advertisement wants the target audience to relax and have an easy dinner with the family. The family looks happy and seems to have made a friend or met someone from the neighborhood at the opposite table. It tries to create a sense of coziness (“you don’t have to get dressed up, there’s no tipping”) unlike any other restaurant one has dined in, even though the language might not have been the best way to appeal to an African American consumer.

Historically, the disco era seems to be a big part of these decade’s campaigns as the term “get down” is used frequently, such is the case in the next print-ad:

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“Maurice and his lady gettin’ down with some cheeseburgers. It’s their way of celebrating just being together. Melted cheese on a burger served on a toasted bun. Fries and icy cold Coca-Cola makes a get-together complete. Can you dig where they’re comin’ from?”

What is interesting here is that the advertisement reads like a story. It is a narrative that tells the story of a couple. Again, slang is dominating this advertisement as can be seen in the g-dropping of “comin’”, “gettin’”. The lexical text fields (the repetition of the word “together” is an indicator) invite us out to a date with this couple and to see how they spend it. McDonald’s might seem an odd choice for a date night out, but it seems like it worked as an advertising campaign.

To go back to the narrative nature of this ad, it seems to be a common theme in the 1970s, as for example in this next print-ad:

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“Get it together in the morning with breakfast at a participating McDonald’s. We’ve got three choice breakfasts to eat in or take out in your special carry out packages.

We’ve got Hotcakes and Sausage: fluffy light hotcakes with old-fashioned syrup and a patty of pure pork sausage. We’ve got […] crackin’ fresh grade A eggs scrambled in butter. And, of course, we’ve got our famous Egg McMuffin, the breakfast sandwich: a fresh fried egg, a slice of melted cheese and Canadian Bacon—on an English Muffin.

And you’re always served nice and fast—so you can get down nice and slow.”

In this advertisement, the formal level is the narrative in form of the pictures chosen for the ad. We see a sleeping middle aged man with a smile on his face and beneath it a picture of him in work clothes, wearing a protective helmet (he is probably a construction worker). Since this is an advertisement to the breakfast option at McDonald’s, there is also a picture of the food and the “special carry out package” the ad talks about, visualizing the informative body text. With adjectives “fluffy light”, “fresh grade A”, “famous” and, again, a g-drop in “crackin’”, the ad tries to make an event out of ordering breakfast at McDonald’s.


Excerpt out of 42 pages


McDonald's & Burger King. Advertising History from the 1960s to Today
University of Salzburg
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
English, Linguistic, Linguistics, History, McDonald's, Burger King, 1960, Fast Food, Language, Advertising, Advertisement
Quote paper
Samuel Fulmer (Author), 2015, McDonald's & Burger King. Advertising History from the 1960s to Today, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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