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Helmer – Love on a Bun

Helmer, James. 1992. Love on a bun: How McDonald’s won the burger wars. Journal of Popular Culture 26 (2) (Fall92): 85-97.

Helmer’s article entitled “Love on a Bun. How McDonalds won the burger wars,” outlines with evidence that the marketing of fast food has changed the way American families dine. Television and other advertising mechanisms reflect and shape contemporary culture. Helmer claims that McDonalds, “was able to catch up and exploit in its advertising a number of significant historical and contemporary developments in American community and family life” (85). McDonalds, over the past several decades has made a dramatic impact on almost every community in the United States as well as revealing the American dining experience internationally. The main aim of the corporation has been to symbolically reconstruct the definition of family and reposition it under the infamous golden arches.

The first part of Helmer’s article gives a brief historical background and supporting details of the cause in the rising demand for fast food. He mentions that there were several historical developments that help fuel the expansion. These include population mobility, advances in food technology, the rise of chain stores and proliferation of the car. In addition, advance technologies such as refrigerated railroad cars made access to foods all year round a reality. With these historical developments and technologies, he also adds that because of these developments, there was a struggle to maintain a sense of community that would help McDonalds cause and other franchise stores. Helmer’s argument continues by revealing that it was not until post World War II that fast food really emerged. Thomas Anderson, a scholar explained, “something that contributed to the popularity of fast foods was the growth of industrial productivity through technological innovation and the resultant increase in affluence and leisure” (88).

McDonalds was highly strategic in their target population which was people in cars. Due to the fact that America was becoming more mobile, their dining experience could give them a sense of familiarity and security. By spending hundreds of millions of dollars annually in advertising, the company could house the idea of family and portray in with advertisements. In addition, their charity contributions were primarily to health and service agencies including their founding of Ronald McDonald houses. Over the last few decades, due to the desires of the consumer, their advertising strategies have evolve from not just identifying the food itself, but also as the glue that holds friends and families together. Specifically in the 1980’s, they used family images which portrayed a wide age range and different categories of race as a persuasive device to emphasize this point.

Helmer concludes his essay by saying that competitors such as Wendy’s and Burger King had difficulty with its competitor McDonalds as they kept a firm hold as the leader in the fast food industry. The author argues that anti-McDonald tones of competitors have diminished and its rivals have slowed down expansion which implies that McDonalds has won with its campaign of emphasizing family and community. Ultimately this success story reveals that the American family recognizes the various human groups depicted in the in the commercials as reflections of itself and what the company has defined as family has become a societal norm. This conclusion also comes with concern as kids use it as a form of control by whining to persuade parents to stop at McDonalds. In addition, one could argue it has democratized the United States and there is a threat to it occurring abroad. Helmer uses the example of London and how it is a historic and cultural city. In the tube, there is a map that shows the distance of a McDonalds to all the scenic and historic spots around the city which could be helpful for an American who wants some familiarity or a sense of security. They might be compelled to stop for a hamburger under the golden arches.

The author, James Helmer graduated from the University of Illinois with a Ph.D. and is currently a professor at Hamilton University. He is a lecturer in oral communication and has been published in several journals. Helmer does bring up valid points of concern and has education background to validate his claims. In addition, he has also written other articles which deal with behaviors through which people create and sustain relationships and social structures. McDonalds success as well as their massive influence on the fast food industry has been studied, however, what Helmer is speaking about is not really part of a larger discourse because he explains the strategic advertising and methods of McDonalds definition of family which has most likely led to their success. He seems to be leading the forefront on this idea.

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