In this chapter, Schlosser examines Ray Kroc and Walt Disney’s complicated relationship as well as each man’s rise to fame. This chapter also considers the intricate, profitable methods of advertising to children.
During a visit to the Ray A. Kroc Museum, Schlosser observes the Disneyesque tone that pervades the space. Schlosser claims that this is only one of many similarities shared between the McDonald’s and Walt Disney Corporations. Both Kroc and Disney were born in Illinois a year apart; they both dropped out of high school; they served together in World War I; they both moved to Southern California after the war. They both became geniuses at marketing their products to children.
Kroc had a variety of careers before he involved himself with McDonald’s. In 1954 he was selling milk-shake mixers and wondered why the McDonald brothers needed eight. Kroc convinced the brothers, who were more than happy with the money they were making at their restaurant, to sell him the right to franchise McDonald’s. Kroc sent Disney a letter, inquiring if there might be room for his restaurant in Disney’s new park. A deal never materialized.
Schlosser examines Walt Disney’s shrewd business side by demonstrating how Disney appropriated Henry Ford’s mass-production techniques in his studio. Moreover, during the 1941 strike at his studio, Disney showed no sympathy for the union. Later he appeared as a friendly witness for the House Un-American Activities Committee, served as a secret informer for the FBI, and supported the Hollywood blacklist. Ray Kroc shared some of Disney’s political philosophy--which became apparent in his support for Richard Nixon. Both Kroc and Disney advocated hard work and self-reliance.
Disney quickly developed clever and efficient marketing strategies--such as procuring corporate sponsorship, creating an atmosphere in which visitors felt as though they had escaped the real world, and coining the “synergy” strategy, which sold the rights to use Disney characters to other companies, thus increasing product recognition.
Similarly, Ray Kroc worked on his own marketing strategies--telling people he was really in show business, not the restaurant business. For example, Ronald McDonald was inspired by Bozo the Clown. Soon Ronald began to rival Mickey in name recognition. McDonald’s Corporation created more characters and added “playlands” to their restaurants.
In the final sections of Chapter 2, Schlosser discusses marketing strategies aimed at children--an industry which exploded in the 1980s. Marketing to children has become an art--aimed at urging children to persuade their guardians in specific ways as well as developing customers for life. This marketing extends well beyond television ad campaigns and includes playlands, toys, and cross-promotion. McDonald’s has gone so far as to promote itself as a “Trusted Friend,” suggesting that it cares about its customers’ well-being.
This chapter closes with attention to how fast food has become incorporated in many public schools. Fast-food companies pay to advertise in schools, while soda companies sell their product in schools. Schools badly in need of funding find themselves in a difficult position of concern for their students’ health and concern for their students’ educational needs.
Notes - In this chapter, Schlosser shows a different side of the fast-food pioneer. In comparing the rise of McDonald’s with the Walt Disney Company, Schlosser is able to depict Ray Kroc as a shrewd businessman concerned primarily, if not solely, with expanding his empire. This tale serves as a backdrop for Schlosser’s real project--which is to illuminate the machination of the contemporary fast-food nation. Schlosser effectively demonstrates how fast-food companies, which offer little in terms of nutrition, manipulate young minds in an effort sell their products. These companies go so far as to portray themselves as trusted friends and prey on school systems with declining revenue.
One should be careful to consider the sense of agency Schlosser allots (or withholds from) the American consumer. While fast-food companies actively market their product to impressionable minds, parents are the ultimate decision-makers for their children. Moreover, there is a class-element at stake in fast-food consumption. Often low-wage workers, relegated to kitchen-less hotel rooms have limited food options. For more on the relationship between low-wage workers and the fast-food industry see Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By In America (2001).
Finally, since this book’s publication many school districts have begun to take responsibility for their students’ health in an effort to curb childhood obesity.