Commentary by Jonah Bloom

McDonald's, Burger King Should Come Up With Cooler Uniforms for Staff

Perhaps They Should Take a Look at UPS, or the New York Fire Dept.

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When I was 21, in my first, badly paid, journalism gig in the U.K., I considered ditching the fourth estate and joining the
Jonah Bloom, executive editor of Advertising Age.
police. Given my degree, and the force's removal of a height requirement, I figured I'd have no trouble getting on the fast-track-to-officer scheme, and from there it'd be a short hop to maverick detective heroics.

My mum, who worked for the police, pointed out I'd hate it, they'd hate me and that my ambiguous attitude to the law ought to exclude me from joining it. Valid points, but the real deterrent was the discovery that even on the fast track I'd have to spend a year on the beat -- in uniform. Call me vain, but the idea of pounding the streets of London in sta-prest slacks and a woolly tunic with a comedic breast on my head didn't appeal.

In recent years, as police numbers have dwindled, the U.K. force has launched a succession of recruitment drives, and every time I read about a new push, I just can't help thinking that they should spend some of that ad budget on uniform design.

A cooler ensemble
Perhaps the uniform is a technique for weeding out the vain, but in today's superficial society I'd wager that a cooler ensemble (see French riot police, NYPD or NYFD for "Where Do I Sign Up" uniforms) would do as much to lure young recruits as any ad campaign.

The same principle might be applied to the fast-food companies. From Subway's purple-and-yellow golf

A standard issue rose-top helmet worn by officers of the London Metropolitan Police Force.
shirt, to McDonald's Mondrianesque take on the Hilfiger polo, through a host of naff short-sleeved offerings and ill-fitting slacks, the fast-food companies give their employees affrontingly bad outfits -- as if paying them atrociously to work in a tough environment is not enough.

More important than ads
The point is not lost on Burger King's agency Crispin Porter & Bogusky. "The uniform is arguably more important than any ads we could produce," says the agency's Jeff Hicks. "It's a key part of inspiring and attracting people, and is a close-in reflection of the brand. It's tough to evolve quickly, but we're certainly very interested in taking it on."

The fry-munching public doesn't expect its burger purveyors to look authoritative, so perhaps BK & Co. might let staff express some individuality by wearing their own pants and sneakers, while issuing a wide range of cool T-shirts to choose from.

For other companies, however, that professional, trustworthy look is important and they need look no further than UPS, which has somehow managed to make brown look good.

Brown's 'sexiness'
UPS says research shows the uniform is "a source of driver pride," and several recent articles have ascribed "sexiness" to UPS staff. The company invests heavily in the uniform, spends a lot of time in the design stage ensuring it is fashionable enough, but not so trendy that it becomes dated, and also that it looks good on different body types.

"We want it to be classic and functional," says spokesperson Steve Holmes. "We all get involved, from the brand group to the top HR executive. It symbolizes the company and has done since 1907."

Richard Ford at brand consultancy Landor has worked with a number of clients to improve their uniforms. "When it's right it gives a brand character, impresses customers and gets a big lift in employee satisfaction," he says. He was not clear, however, about the impact of breast-shaped helmets.

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