How to capture the attention of 60 million daily users around the world

McDonald's products

Boxer Brand Design, our boutique design firm, was featured by Fast Company in its latest piece on innovative design. Read the full article as originally published or below for more insights into how Boxer designs and adapts McDonald’s consumer-facing global packaging, amounting to well over 2,000 items around the world, executed in 24 different languages.

by Fastcoworks

Everyone understands the importance of package design. From the simplest candy bar wrapper to the most elaborately showcased luxury goods, effective packaging is critical to a brand’s identity and consistency. But how do you maintain that consistency if you’re a beloved global brand doing business in more than 100 countries, each with its own distinct cultures and aesthetic sensibilities?

McDonald’s, one of the world’s leading restaurant companies, engages Boxer Brand Design, a boutique design firm that’s part of the Chicago-based customer-engagement agency tms (formerly The Marketing Store). Boxer designs and adapts McDonald’s consumer-facing global packaging, including burger wrappers, french fry containers, and carryout bags. That amounts to well over 2,000 items around the world, executed in 24 different languages, providing an object lesson in how to maintain consistent brand packaging at scale.

“We started working with McDonald’s in 2003, when they launched ‘I’m lovin’ it,’ which was their first global campaign,” says Lisa Burgess, Boxer’s senior account director. “We started with the carryout bags and cold cups, which we call ‘billboard packaging’ because people see them carried out of the restaurants and out in the world. And a few years later they said, ‘We want to introduce this whole personality across everything within the packaging portfolio,’ so that’s what we’ve been doing since then.”

Designing Happy Meal boxes and Chicken McNuggets dipping sauce containers may not seem like earthshaking stuff, but don’t underestimate its potential reach. “Packaging is one of the very few marketing tools that can reach all your customers, directly in their hands,” Burgess says. “With a brand at the scale of McDonald’s, that’s 60 million-plus customers daily, which is pretty impressive.”

Respecting Cultural Nuances

Boxer’s biggest challenge comes when McDonald’s calls for a global brand refresh, which tends to happen every five to 10 years. This is straightforward enough for some core menu items—a Big Mac, for example, is served all around the world—but can be trickier for certain items in overseas markets.

“We’re very sensitive about cultural nuances,” says Diana Samper, Boxer’s vice president and creative director. “We’re very attuned to how the use of color resonates in different countries. So, we question everything we put in the packaging to make sure it’s culturally relevant and appropriate.”

Then there’s the sticky issue of different languages and alphabets. “Obviously, we don’t speak all the different languages that we’re working in, and we can’t read Arabic, Korean, or Cyrillic,” Samper says. “So, we work with our partners in the individual markets—in Brazil, or China, wherever—to help us navigate and make sure we have the right product language. And again, we question everything—the spacing, the type, everything.”

Balancing all of these priorities often demands innovative solutions. In the past, for example, Boxer created a customizable billboard-like design grid that provided McDonald’s restaurants in different countries various storytelling fun facts on their bags and cups, allowing each market to highlight its preferred priorities. Despite the varied content, the program had a unified, holistic feel with Boxer’s consistent use of playful type and imagery across the campaign.

The “Secret Sauce”

Another challenge is balancing the complexities of a large, wide-ranging packaging system with McDonald’s need for operational simplicity. “This is quick service, so the crew members are working quickly,” Burgess says. “You don’t want your customer to get the wrong order because it wasn’t easy for the crew, so we try to make it intuitive for them.”

Boxer does this by using visual cues like consistent color-coding (like using blue for Filet-O-Fish) and other identifiers to help streamline the crew’s efficiency. “We really understand their operations, so we can design packaging systems to optimize that,” Samper says. “That’s our secret sauce.”

In addition, once a new global packaging set is ready to roll out, McDonald’s Global Marketing, with the support of Boxer, conducts kickoff workshops around the world to help familiarize each McDonald’s market with the new system. “These workshops are critical—not only for the initial launch in each country, but also for years beyond when they design their own local packaging for new products or for promotions,” says Katie Theophilus, McDonald’s global brand manager. “It all works because the Boxer team understands our core values, operations, brand standards, and packaging functionality. Boxer is one of our valued, long-standing partners that contributes to the success of our three-legged stool, representing suppliers, employees, and franchisees.”