News of leadership changes at major brands reflect the changing landscape of American interests. Aging brands are suffering the consequences of a public that’s aging in reverse, and even national institutions whose logos we need only glance at to recognize are being affected.


Picture of Fast Food

McDonald’s plans to add more customizable menu options to compete with chains like Chipotle.

McDonald’s, the once beloved chain that served as the go-to restaurant for frustrated and time-strapped parents across the country, now finds itself a symbol of American obesity. More educated than ever about health and food choices, parents are driving away rather than “thru” McDonald’s and other fast food restaurants. McDonald’s has recently unleashed a set of awareness campaigns to change the perception of the brand as an obesity-inducing fast food chain. So far, the campaigns, including the “What’s in a McDonald’s french fry?” video, have received a cool reception from the public.


In another attempt to turn the brand around, McDonald’s replaced CEO Don Thompson with McDonald’s Chief Brand Manager Steve Easterbrook, who’s credited with helping to change the public’s perception of McDonald’s in the UK. The problem with McDonald’s, however, isn’t restricted to the food. Shake Shack, arguably not a contender for the title of healthiest restaurant in America, is worth more than $1 billion at this writing. The McDonald’s brand is simply old and tired; the brand itself is a reminder of what we used to be and will never be again.


Sales of Barbie dolls have dropped 16 percent in 2014, with double-digit losses each quarter.

Sales of Barbie dolls dropped 16 percent in 2014, with double-digit losses in each quarter.

Other industries feeling the effects of aging include the toy industry, which is rapidly losing relevance among parents and children. Barbie, a half-century-long symbol of American girlhood, has become a dated and resented symbol of an unrealistic American female. Mattel, with the help of recently ousted CEO Bryan Stockton, attempted to change this perception by diversifying Barbie and hot-gluing tablets and briefcases to her hands, but little girls around the world have largely rejected the doll. Not only are girls gravitating toward more modern dolls, but they’re also turning toward their own tablets and laptops for entertainment.


Americans, including our youngest citizens who can barely see over the dashboard, have reached a suspect level of sophistication, thanks to our indulgence in all things information. With the exception of visiting the public library, Americans will go to great measures to obtain information, and the information we’ve consumed has made us intolerant of anything less than extraordinary. Scrambling to keep up, aging brands are seeking innovative ways to hold our short attention spans and reach our high expectations. Mattel is on pace to lose millions more on dolls American girls no longer relate to, and McDonald’s is rumored to be slashing menu items to combat the public’s disinterest in long reads.


Will social media campaigns revealing french fry secrets reaffirm our devotion to a restaurant chain that was the source of so many of our children’s temper tantrums? Will Barbie return to the glory of the 1980s when girls were still tolerant of being sold images of unattainable beauty and life-threateningly small waistlines? It’s difficult to tell. What’s obvious is that aging brands are running out of time — little girls are playing with dolls that look like vampires instead of super models, and adults are running toward the Shake Shake on the way to the gym.


How can aging brands stay relevant with consumers? Leave your insights in the comments section, or tweet me @nataliepetitto.