Iconography of the US


One icon that originated in the United States that has now been imposed on other cultures is the McDonald’s Golden Arches.  In America the Golden Arches became popular through McDonalds’ branding efforts.  The arches were actually developed to be part of the design for the first McDonalds storefront, but the architect did not want to include them over the doors.  Dick McDonald liked the design of the arches and decided instead to have the arches included in the signage for the store, and eventually it stuck as the company logo (Hughes, 2008). 

When McDonalds decided to expand internationally, they decided to keep the same logo since it was synonymous with quality food and quick service in America.  Originally McDonalds attempted to keep their standard US menu abroad, but quickly realized that they would need to adapt to local tastes if they were going to succeed.  By keeping the logo the same and adjusting to the cultures that they were operating within, McDonalds was able to brand foreign consumers to have a positive view of the arches.  The arches are still synonymous with quality fast food on the international level, but more than that they are a symbol of American culture.  The heart of the menu is still American-based foods, but the adaptation is what has allowed the company to become popular abroad.  McDonalds can also be seen as a sign of American big business since it has thousands of international locations.  They follow the traditional American big business model, but through their branding efforts they have avoided many locations disliking (or simply ignoring) this symbol.

The Golden Arches have been received positively both in the United States and internationally largely due to branding.  McDonalds has done well in marketing their product on both fronts, leading to the positive associations.  In the United States, McDonalds typically has large signs along the highways signaling that an oftentimes much needed rest stop is nearby.  The Golden Arches appear to be a sign that there is an oasis during a potentially long highway trip.  Even when people are not driving on the highway, the Golden Arches cause many of us to think of McDonald’s famous golden French fries.  McDonalds has also maintained a relatively positive corporate image, which has helped to maintain the positive sentiment felt when Americans see the Golden Arches icon. 

Similarly, the Golden Arches have generally been met with positive sentiment on an international level.  There is not a lot of research on if the Golden Arches have the same effect that they do on Americans, but the company has experienced success abroad, and the Golden Arches are known for being internationally recognized.  There has even been an economic theory developed around the Golden Arches relating to globalization and its effect on foreign policy and conflict.  Essentially, the theory notes that no two countries that contain a McDonalds franchise have ever gone to war with each other (Haeber, 2008).  Whether or not this theory holds water is certainly debatable, but it is a fun fact.

Since McDonalds is in so many countries it is hard to argue that one specific icon would be a better choice than the Golden Arches, but perhaps in a country such as Japan (where a lot of American culture is widely understood) an image of a hamburger or fries may be more appropriate.  It communicates what the restaurant serves in a visual manner, which could overcome a cultural barrier.  However, when all is said and done, the Golden Arches are the most widely recognized brand logo, and it is probably the perfect icon to be used no matter where the company moves.


Haeber, J. (2008, January 8). What is the golden arches theory of conflict prevention?. Retrieved from http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-505125_162-30640309/what-is-the-golden-arches-theory-of-conflict-prevention/

Hughes, M. (2008, January 04). Logos that became legends: Icons from the world of advertising . Retrieved from http://www.independent.co.uk/news/media/logos-that-became-legends-icons-from-the-world-of-advertising-768077.html

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