"Everybody's looking for the next magic sandwich, but it doesn't exist," said Max Cooper, the 86-year-old franchisee of 45 stores in greater Birmingham, Ala. "It's very difficult to create a sandwich today like we did with the Big Mac. Not one that will blow people away and give you 10% of your business."
Mr. Cooper believes the company has to get back to mastering the basics. "The core menu is what really keeps the business going, and if delivered properly ... that's the driving force and it will continue to be that," he said.
Even as McDonald's tests a host of marketing and operational improvements around the country, Mr. Cooper boosted his sales by 6.5% for 2001 with a quad of bundled meals for $2.59, new desserts and lots of creative local advertising.
Starting in 1952 as a press agent who "worked out of his pocket" at Max Cooper & Associates, he partnered in 1955 with Al Golin and Ben Burns, the first editor of Ebony magazine, to create Cooper, Burns & Golin, the precursor to Golin Harris International. By 1964, the agency was helping McDonald's double sales in distressed markets. The next year, he, Mr. Golin and his current partner, Ed Levins, bought three McDonald's stores in Birmingham. Today he and his partners, Mr. Levins and Ben Pastko, own one of the five-largest franchisees in the McFamily. (He left then-named Cooper Golin in the 1970s.)
Since McDonald's didn't have a marketing department, Mr. Cooper became McDonald's first ad manager in 1964 and built the department from scratch. After hiring the shop now known as D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles as the first ad agency in 1966 with a $3 million budget, he introduced media buyer Paul Schrage to CEO Fred Turner, who later hired Mr. Schrage as the chain's marketing chief. One of McDonald's first media buys was a quarter sponsorship of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, for which Mr. Cooper created the McDonald's All-American High School Marching Band.
`Two all-Beef Patties...'
Mr. Cooper is credited with making the "two-all-beef-patties-special-sauce-lettuce-cheese-pickles-onions-on-a-sesame-seed-bun" jingle famous with a promotion that got the country trying to recite the ditty in four seconds or less.
"He created a communications program for McDonald's that was not really affordable at the time, but he was able to get McDonald's into a lot of places in terms of visibility in print and TV," Mr. Schrage said. Among his other coups: packaging the chain's first Value Meal in 1975.
Mr. Cooper is far from retiring. He is in the process of renewing eight restaurant leases for another 20 years. "Even if he got out of McDonald's, he wouldn't retire," Mr. Schrage said. "That man's going to go on and on."
Name: Max Cooper
Now: CEO, Cooper Levins Pastko, a franchisee organization for McDonald's Corp.
Challenge: Drive sales amid market saturation and marketing clutter