The strange, Freudian design of McDonald’s golden arches

Do you get an irresistible urge to visit McDonald’s whenever you see the golden arches? That’s because, subconsciously, the magnificent yellow M reminds you of breasts. At least, that was the theory of the psychologist and marketing design consultant who persuaded the corporation to keep its logo in the 1960s.

At the time, Ray Kroc—the legendary entrepreneur who built McDonald’s from a local chain to a fast food giant—had recently taken over as president of the company and was tearing down and rebuilding restaurants in an effort to make them uniform. In so doing, he was demolishing the arches that, as the Daily Meal notes, were originally created as a design feature on either side of McDonald’s buildings.

But Louis Cheskin, who was hired by the firm as a design consultant, argued that the golden arches should stay in place as a logo, claiming that they held a Freudian pull for customers. Cheskin insisted that the arches stand for “mother McDonald’s breasts,” according to Eric Schlosser in his book Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal.

Cheskin was a subscriber to Freud’s theories on how sexuality drives human behavior, and believed those impulses to be a useful tool in marketing. The maternal association, he argued, was key to persuading customers to eat McDonald’s burgers rather than homemade food.

There’s no evidence to prove that the golden arches make you think of breasts, or even that such a thought would make you more likely to visit McDonald’s. But, as a world-famous symbol of cheap, fast hamburgers, the golden arches are certainly an example of a wildly successful logo.

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