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The McDonald’s Invasion Of The Soviet Union

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“McDonald’s had the same dynamics as evangelical Protestant religions, and I predicted that McDonald’s would conquer the world.” (Berger, 2005)

The success of McDonald’s is probably the greatest example of marketing and packaging ever devised. Considering the fact that McDonald’s food is fairly awful and utterly devoid of nutritional value, conventional wisdom dictated that McDonald’s should have filed for bankruptcy years ago. Yet, McDonald’s not only grow into domestic economic giant generating revenues in the billions of dollars, but it also successfully expanded on a global level, even in the most unlikely of places including Moscow during the waning days of communist empire.

Once an expansive world superpower whose client states spanned the world including such countries as Angola, Hungary, Poland, Nicaragua, by the late 1980’s, the Soviet Union was on life support with complete collapse inevitable. The factors that contributed to the Soviet Union’s demise are legion, but an inability to compete with the United States’ arms build up combined with finding itself incredibly drained by a long, drawn out war in Afghanistan were the major factors. In a way, it is ironic that a nation that rejected capitalism for so long allowed access to a corporation that not only symbolized the success of capitalism, but also proved that free market success can exist with a product devoid of any real value beyond the merits of its contribution to popular culture.

McDonald’s initial success was in the 1950’s, but it was not until 1973 that McDonald’s exploded into a pop culture phenomena when McDonald’s unleashed a series of television commercials depicting the fantasy world of the unimaginatively titled McDonald’s Land featuring unique Sid and Marty Kroft inspired characters such as The Hamburglar, Mayor McCheese, The Evil Grimace (Trivia: Grimace was originally conceived as a bad guy) and, of course, the patriarchal clown, Ronald McDonald. The marketing campaign was utterly brilliant as McDonald’s targeted the one consumer group willing to ignore how terrible the food actually was/is: kids.

McDonald’s did not invent utilizing cartoon characters to appeal a product directly to kids, but it implemented the ideology to the greatest consumer success because the product it offered, of a baseline level, was a necessity to survive. “Consumption is part of everyday life. We have to eat and we need to have clothes and a place to live. The problem with consumer cultures, as I see things, is that personal consumption dominates our lives as individuals and American society.” (Berger, 2005) Actually, excessive consumption exists on a global scale just as McDonald’s slant of appealing to kids resonates globally as well. In fact, McDonald’s was able to expand globally even into such unlikely territories such as the Soviet Union. However, in the Soviet Union, the appeal seemed to be enveloped by adults rather than kids due to its changing socio-economic landscape.

The inclusion of McDonald’s into the Soviet Union symbolized the reality of Mikhail Gorbachev’s commitment to political reforms and a new climate of openness in the Soviet Union. By allowing the people of Moscow access to western goods and businesses such as McDonald’s clearly demonstrated that a new dawn was looming for the Soviets and displayed Gorbachev’s legitimate commitment to change. McDonald’s presence also represented the infusion of western popular culture and the freedom it was built on into the Iron Curtain. Sadly, the inclusion of McDonald’s also shined a huge spotlight on the underlying problems that were plaguing the Soviet Union.

The appearance of the Moscow McDonald’s revealed the prosaic truth behind [the Soviet Union] had come to symbolize…Here the capitalist genius for catering to the ordinary desires of ordinary people was spectacularly displayed…the wages of Soviet customers were so depressed that a hamburger and French fries [cost the average worker] a half day’s wage.” (Horowitz, 1998)

            Within a relatively short time after the Moscow McDonald’s opened for business, the Soviet Union dissolved.

McDonald’s impact on popular culture saw a fusion of pop culture entertainment and food service. This was a brilliant marketing strategy that achieved a great deal of success and, for better or for worst, changed the face of food consumerism in the United States. In Moscow, this seeming acceptance of American popular culture was initially empowering as it hinted that a social and economic cultural reform was dawning, but it also highlighted the plight of the average person in the Soviet Union. While the average person could flippantly enjoy the silliness of a happy meal, in Moscow, people gradually became aware that one country’s refuse was another luxury and the levity of the McDonald’s phenomena did not translate to the degree the Soviet people had wished.

Works Cited

Berger, Arthur. (Fall 2005) “Conversations With Scholars Of Popular Culture” in The  

Journal Of American Popular Culture. URL

 http://www.americanpopularculture.com/ journal/articles/fall_2005/berger.htm

Horowitz, David. (1998) The Politics Of Bad Faith. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Schlosser, Eric. (2002) Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal. New

York: Harper Perennial.

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