Branding Is for Cows

Belonging Is For People

Break Free from the Herd and Make Stuff that Matters


In the early 1920’s, an Irishman immigrated to America and found work as a shift manager at a shoe factory in New Hampshire. His two sons, Dick and Mac, shared a common middle name, James.

Perhaps bored with the harshness of the Northeast, or simply smitten by the lust of adventure, the two brothers decided to move West to California in their early twenties.

They scraped together what little they had and opened up a hot dog stand in Pasadena. It was a typical drive-in of its era, where people parked their cars and carhops came to take their orders.

In 1940, they closed the hot dog stand to open a larger restaurant in San Bernardino that served hamburgers.

The brothers began franchising their successful chain in 1953. They each had a goal to make a million dollars before they turned fifty. Their secret weapon: a standardized system for hamburger preparation that ensured every burger would taste the same in every restaurant, setting strict rules for franchisees on things like portion sizes, cooking times, and packaging.

The McDonalds brothers were onto something.

More than half a century later, McDonalds has revolutionized not only the way people consume hamburgers, but the way they consume products all over the world. Sociologist, George Ritzer, calls this phenomenon, “McDonaldization.”

According to Ritzer, McDonalds works because it offers consumers and employees things like efficiency, calculability, and predictability. But there’s a dark side to these benefits as well.

For example, McDonaldization has produced a wide array of adverse effects on the environment. One is a side effect of the need to grow uniform potatoes from which to create predictable french fries. The huge farms of the Pacific Northwest that now produce such potatoes rely on the extensive use of chemicals.

In addition, the need to produce a perfect fry means that much of the potato is wasted, with the remnants either fed to cattle or used for fertilizer. The underground water supply in the area is now showing high levels of nitrates, which may be traceable to the fertilizer and animal wastes. Many other ecological problems are associated with the McDonaldization of the fast-food industry: the forests felled to produce paper wrappings, the damage caused by packaging materials, the enormous amount of food needed to produce feed cattle, and so on.

Another unreasonable effect is that fast-food restaurants are often dehumanizing settings in which to eat or work. Customers lining up for a burger or waiting in the drive-through line and workers preparing the food often feel as though they are part of an assembly line. Hardly amenable to eating, assembly lines have been shown to be inhuman settings in which to work.

– George Ritzer, McDonaldization

McDonaldization will continue to spread its influence all over the world and reap the consequences, both positive and negative.

But What About the Rest of US?

As a new generation of culture creators, we need a different strategy for reaching others. People already have a place to go to be treated like livestock, to fall in line, be told what to do, and get the same predictable product every time.

And let’s be honest. Sometimes we want that. It’s why brands like McDonalds, Starbucks, and Amazon are so successful. It’s why Pop Tarts, Bagel Bites, and Hot Pockets exist.

Sometimes we crave “instant” and even though we know it comes at a price, we’re willing to make that sacrifice. But we’ve proven that culture can’t thrive on instant.

On a human level, whenever we choose “instant” we say “no” to something better for ourselves, others, or the common good. Fast food kills our body while fresh food fuels it.

Walmart offers low prices because they carry products made in sweatshops. Porn stands in direct contrast to intimacy. The list goes on.

On a strategic level, there’s too much competition for “instant.” It’s not a viable option for the majority of us to create something that competes with McDonalds.

If we want to get into the “instant” business, we should prepare to take down giants. Unless you have access to billions of dollars somewhere, prepare for that battle to feel like a nerf gun up against an AK-47.

If you want to compete with “instant,” this message isn’t for you. It’s for the growing community of movers, shakers, and makers who want to color outside the lines and make things that matter.

There’s much more opportunity for these types of people as culture grows more skeptical of “instant” and desires experiences that create more holistic value.

People aren’t cattle. Once they’ve been burned, they’re smart enough to leave the herd. Those who wish to reach this emerging group won’t do so by offering them a brand, but rather an opportunity to belong.


Brand /brand/
A hot burned wooden stake.
‘To brand’ means to ‘make an indelible mark of ownership’, especially with a hot stake or iron.

This verb usage has been known since the Middle Ages.

Search the internet for images of “branding cattle.” Even if you eat meat every day for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, you’ll temporarily want to sign up for PETA.

Branding happens to cows at a very young age (about 6 months  old). The process usually takes two people: one to hold the calf down so it doesn’t escape, and one to singe the flaming hot branding iron into her skin.

For years, we’ve done the same to people we seek to reach. Think about the language we throw around in marketing conversations. When we want to influence a certain people group we say we target them.

Usually, you target things you want to shoot and/or kill. Just like it is for cows, in the world of branding, this process begins at an early age.

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Regards, Coyalita

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