McDonald’s, Monopoly and the Culture of Addiction (2023)

McDonald’s built a successful business out of standardized products and strictly limited customer choice, but believes that choice is at the core of its culture.

The UK’s deputy leader of the Labour Party, Tom Watson, has made headlines by publicly denouncing McDonald’s for the latest version of its monopoly competition — a clear case of a brand using another brand (and cultural meme) to increase its traction. Watson objects to what he sees as a cheap ploy designed to incite people to consume more junk food in a society suffering increasingly from obesity and diabetes.

To defend itself, a McDonald’s spokesperson said: “Customer choice is at the heart of everything we do, including our popular Monopoly promotion.”

Here is today’s 3D definition:

Customer choice:

The basic freedom in capitalist societies that allows people to define themselves and even the deformity of their physical profiles and corporal health by what they pay to consume

Contextual note

In one short sentence defending its strategy, McDonald’s cites five culturally-loaded words intended to convince the public that they, and not Tom Watson, represent the true values of the economic and social culture we all live in. Those five words are “choice,” “heart,” “everything,” “popular” and “monopoly.” Let’s analyze how they work.

“Choice” means the opportunity to purchase what will either meet your needs, make you happy or, ideally, both. This constitutes the basis of prosperity in the consumer society. Clever marketing not only responds to needs, but cultivates and creates needs that never existed. For McDonald’s, the need to eat to sustain the body was so basic that the marketers could focus on cost — the savings from which can be directed to other needs, such as clothing — and speed, since in the US (where McDonald’s originated) “time is money.”

The appeal to happiness — which, since Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence, all Americans are invited to pursue — is contained within the feeling that the customer is meeting an essential need, saving time (cooking is a time-consuming activity) and money (“a penny saved is a penny earned”), all virtuous acts. Taste is secondary.

The “heart of everything we do” communicates the idea that McDonald’s isn’t just a business, but is a caring community serving the needs and requirements of the wider community. Everyone should know that the core value of every impersonal business — and McDonald’s is typically an impersonal business — is making a profit and nothing else: the company’s fiduciary duty to its shareholders. Calling that core value a “heart” humanizes it.

“Everything” has become an all-purpose trope in a culture that values homogenization and conformity. The Daily Devil’s Dictionary recently looked at CNN commentator Don Lemon’s abuse of the word “everything.” Assuming that any can easily morph into every has become a feature of cheap rhetoric in US culture, with its particular taste for hyperbole.

“Popular” points to the justification of any marketing initiative, as companies seek commitment from a maximum number of consumers.

The idea of popularity introduces the last word in the list: “monopoly.” The “Monopoly” that McDonald’s refers to — with a capital “M” — is the iconic board game first marketed in 1935. Mobilizing the recently invented marketing concept of gamification, McDonald’s has created its essentially non-interactive reward system while harnessing the brand of a world-famous competitive game to motivate its customers to consume more. It connects with the implicit motivational appeal of the board game: acquisitive greed and overconsumption. As perblogger Ciana O’Reilly, “Think of it like regular Monopoly, but with more prizes and the added benefit of getting delicious McDonald’s food.”This links with the idea of saving money (free food) and involves the notion of possibly getting more than the customer paid for (prizes).

And, of course, in the background we are reminded that“monopoly” is more than a game. It represents the ideal of any (and therefore every) business in the US: to achieve something close to monopoly status, with a captive public. McDonald’s has competitors, of course, but it has achieved the modern ideal of global branding: becoming its own monopoly.

Historical note

Though it has spread all over the world, McDonald’s grew directly out of US culture. Founded by the Puritans who imposed proverbial maxims such as “eat to live, not live to eat,” the notion of need to justify the pleasure associated with eating has acquired a moral force that other more Epicurean cultures ignore. This may explain why the French and Italians but also Chinese, Mexicans, Greeks, Indians and other cultures have allowed themselves to take great pride in the gustatory quality of their cooking, while in the US the taste of food has traditionally been deemed secondary. The taste of food must be agreeable enough to justify responding to one’s need to eat. Salt and sugar have played a major role in achieving that minimal level of taste in many of the foods Americans eat.

In a purely puritanical perspective, food should be tasteless, as sensual pleasure is considered sinful. That idea marked the tradition for quite a long time in the United Kingdom, influenced by the radical Puritan values that briefly dominated the culture in the 17th century under Oliver Cromwell but persisted long afterwards in the lower classes. US culture tried to strike a balance between Puritan frugality, which increasingly focused on money, and the idea associated with the “pursuit of happiness,” a basic right alongside life and liberty. The English philosopher John Locke defined the basic rights of “natural law” as “life, liberty and property.” Thomas Jefferson substituted the dynamic notion of pursuit of an objective (happiness) for Locke’s inert notion of property, eventually opening the floodgates of the consumer society that would finally emerge in the 20th century.

By insisting that it is focused on “customer choice,” McDonald’s wants us to believe it is fulfilling the Jeffersonian ideal. But McDonald’s has always clung to the tradition of limiting customer choice, a concept initiated by Henry Ford when he offered “any color so long as it’s black.” No one more than McDonald’s has incarnated the notion of standardized food. The firm’s defense of its monopoly promotion isn’t about customer choice. It’s about appealing to customers’ basic instincts related to the acquisition of things and obtaining rewards. Rewards for what act of prowess of virtuous action? Consumption!

McDonald’s does what any commercial company with something close to monopolistic scope will always do: find ways of promoting addiction not just to their products, but to the act of consuming their products. It works with the young, but also with the old — notably Warren Buffett, a man who knows something about monopoly as well as saving and acquiring money.

Gordon Gekko, the fictional character in Oliver Stone’s movie, Wall Street, famously said, “Greed is good.” Monopolistic entrepreneurs tend to say, “Addiction is good.”

*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news.]

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.


What was the McDonald's Monopoly controversy? ›

In 2001, the U.S. promotion was halted after fraud was uncovered. A subcontracting company, Simon Marketing (then a subsidiary of Cyrk), which had been hired by McDonald's to organize and promote the game, failed to recognize a flaw in its procedures. Simon's chief of security Jerome P.

What is the explanation of McDonald's Monopoly? ›

On a Monopoly board, each property belongs to a colour set with one or two more. With stations, you need four for a full set. With McDonald's Monopoly, the Collect To Win pieces will tell you which other pieces you need to collect to get a full set as well as what prize you can claim if you do so.

Did the McDonald's Monopoly winners go to jail? ›

After confessing to all nine of his charges, Jacobson said that he stole up to 60 winning game stickers, charging between $45,000 and $50,000 for each one - allowing him to take home at least $3 million. He was ultimately sentenced to 37 months in prison and was forced to pay over $12.5 million in restitution.

What was the McDonald's McMillions Monopoly scandal? ›

McMillions "examines the $24 million worth of fraud that corrupted the McDonald's Monopoly game between 1989 and 2001, in which there were almost no legitimate million-dollar winners in the contest." Through six episodes, the documentary introduces the FBI and other legal authorities who investigated the Monopoly game ...

Was Monopoly designed to be bad? ›

It was originally called 'The Landlord's Game'

Monopoly is derived from an original board game called "The Landlord's Game," and rather than being good family fun, it was actually created to be an insight into the trials and tribulations of money, and the negative implications of capital accumulation.

What is McDonald's recent controversy? ›

On 1 September 2020, McDonald's was sued by 50 black owners for racial discrimination. According to the lawsuit, McDonald's steered black franchisees to stores which had lower revenue and higher security expenses than stores in more affluent areas.

What is the main message of Monopoly? ›

Monopoly is a real-estate board game for two to eight players. The player's goal is to remain financially solvent while forcing opponents into bankruptcy by buying and developing pieces of property. Bankruptcy results in elimination from the game. The last player remaining on the board is the winner.

What does the game Monopoly symbolize? ›

Monopoly is derived from The Landlord's Game, created by Lizzie Magie in the United States in 1903 as a way to demonstrate that an economy that rewards individuals is better than one where monopolies hold all the wealth and to promote the economic theories of Henry George—in particular, his ideas about taxation.

Has anyone ever won McDonald's Monopoly? ›

Two lucky winners have shared their experience of winning big at the Monopoly game.

What is the hardest McDonald's Monopoly to get? ›

The list of rare McDonald's monopoly pieces are:
  • Dark blue: Mayfair.
  • Green: Bond Street.
  • Yellow: Coventry Street.
  • Red: Strand.
  • Train stations: Liverpool St Station.
  • Orange: Marlborough Street.
  • Light blue: Euston Road.
  • Pink: Northumberland Avenue.
Aug 12, 2022

Is McDonald's Monopoly ending? ›

When is the cut-off date for claiming McDonald's Monopoly prizes? All prize winners must log their wins online, using the website written on the winning game piece. They must register their win online by no later than November 15, 2022.

Does McDonald's still do Monopoly 2023? ›

McDonald's Monopoly 2023 is coming soon – here's everything you need to know to win big. The sticker collecting game usually has prizes including £100k cash, a holiday abroad or in the UK, and free food. Monopoly has not started for 2023 yet, but you can play the brand new McDonald's Winning Sips instead.

Who snitched McMillions? ›

Brennan: I have to say, I was delighted that “McMillions” held one last bombshell in reserve for the finale: the assertion that Ma Colombo, Jerry Colombo's mother, was the confidential informant whose tip to the FBI broke the case wide open — and that she did it in the battle over her grandson, not the McDonald's ...

Why did McDonald's stop playing Monopoly? ›

However, Simon Marketing's image was tarnished and in 2002 it was forced to liquidate the company. Since the scandal, McDonald's has not run the monopoly game in the US although it is still available in other countries.

Who stole the McMillions? ›

They were picked in a scheme run by a rogue ex-police officer, Jerome Jacobson, involving mob connections, false addresses, smuggled tickets and over $24m in illegal winnings – a genuinely crazy, rabbit-hole story of greed, deceit, and good old American scamming explored in McMillions, a six-part HBO docuseries out ...

Why Monopoly is considered socially harmful? ›

Introduction. Monopoly power can harm society by making output lower, prices higher, and innovation less than would be the case in a competitive market.

Why is a Monopoly socially harmful? ›

Answer and Explanation: Monopolies are bad for society as the monopolist being the price maker of the firm discriminates price by charging different price from different customer, and thus, there is no market competition and surpluses shifts from the consumer to the producer and thus reduces social welfare.

What is the major criticism of Monopoly? ›

The disadvantages of monopolies include price-fixing, low-quality products, lack of incentive for innovation, and cost-push inflation.

Why was Ronald McDonald banned from McDonald's? ›

In 2016, McDonald's officially retired Ronald after a series of "creepy clown sightings" popped up across the United States. As they escalated from harmless sightings to reports of carrying weapons, it became an awful time to be a clown.

Why is McDonald's unhealty? ›

Most fast food, like burgers, french fries, and even sodas, are loaded with simple carbohydrates. When your body breaks down a McDonald's meal, your blood sugar levels spike, and in order to deal with these spikes, insulin is quickly released to help bring the sugar levels down, leading to spikes in insulin itself.

Is McDonald's losing popularity? ›

Yes, McDonald's is losing popularity.

However, the number of McDonald's locations is still going up steadily in other parts of the world and reached 40,031 in 2021. In addition, from 2020 to 2021, McDonald's annual revenue saw its biggest jump in a while when it increased from $19.21 billion to $23.22 billion.

What are the main problem caused by monopoly? ›

Monopolies can be criticised because of their potential negative effects on the consumer, including: Restricting output onto the market. Charging a higher price than in a more competitive market. Reducing consumer surplus and economic welfare.

Why is monopoly bad for consumers? ›

Because they face little or no competitive pressure, monopolists often produce inferior products because they know that customers cannot find an alternative product or service. Monopolists are free to limit production, driving prices even higher.

What is a monopoly and why is it a problem? ›

A monopoly limits available substitutes for its product and creates barriers for competitors to enter the marketplace. Monopolies can lead to unfair consumer practices. Some monopolies such as those in the utility sector are government regulated.

What lesson does monopoly teach? ›

Always Keep Cash on Hand

By far, this is the most important lesson in both the game and the financial world. To win in Monopoly you have to be the last player left, in other words, the last one to have money.

What is the deep meaning of monopoly? ›

Definition: A market structure characterized by a single seller, selling a unique product in the market. In a monopoly market, the seller faces no competition, as he is the sole seller of goods with no close substitute.

Does the game monopoly represent capitalism? ›

Monopoly is a board game built around capitalism. So is its origin story. : Planet Money Monopoly is one of the best-selling board games in history. The game's staying power may in part be because of strong American lore — the idea that anyone, with just a little bit of cash, can rise from rags to riches.

Is McDonald's Monopoly $1000 cash prize? ›

McDonald's Monopoly gives you the chance to win $1,000 for yourself and $1,000 for the Ronald McDonald House of your Choice!

What is the best prize for McDonald's Monopoly? ›

A McDonald's customer has found what has been labelled the "best prize ever" on the back of her Monopoly sticker. Some of the top prizes include a new car or £100,000 in cash, while other winning stickers offer a free Big Mac.

Which McDonald's Monopoly things are rare? ›

The rare piece for the $50,000 cash prize is Fairmont Le Château Frontenac (#421). The big instant win prize is the NOMAD Tiny House on Wheels by Minimaliste. There is only 1 instant win sticker available and the odds of revealing it are 1 in 116,597,859.

What is the most picked Monopoly piece? ›

The research reveals that the most popular token is the car, chosen by 1 in 4 Monopoly players.

What is the least common McDonalds monopoly? ›

What are the rare McDonald's Monopoly pieces?
  • Dark blue: Mayfair.
  • Green: Bond Street.
  • Yellow: Coventry Street.
  • Red: Strand.
  • Train stations: Liverpool St Station.
  • Orange: Marlborough Street.
  • Light blue: Euston Road.
  • Pink: Northumberland Avenue.
Sep 7, 2022

Why are all McDonald's Monopoly out of date? ›

Over 200 million Monopoly game pieces had already been printed and dated under audited, secure processes." It said that McDonald's had repurposed the packaging with outdated game pieces to ensure it could return for customers as soon as it was safe to do so in August.

Is Bond Street rare McDonald's? ›

One of those rare finds is Bond Street, which is the green sticker. According to Monopolyland, there are only 21 in circulation. This is the second-rarest Monopoly prize after Mayfair, of which there are only five. Mayfair is the dark blue sticker.

Will McDonald's bring back Monopoly? ›

McDonald's Monopoly has been confirmed for 2022 by the fast food giants - here's everything we know. First launched in 2005, McDonald's Monopoly was on hiatus during the coronavirus pandemic. But now the food firm has confirmed the game will return this autumn and customers have the chance to win big prizes.

Is McDonald's monopoly gambling? ›

Barry Grant, the founder of Problem Gambling Ireland, said: “Clearly it is gambling because they had to get a lottery licence, which puts a cap on the number of prizes. There's no guaranteed prize so there's a risk and reward element to it, which you see in gambling whether it's scratchcards or slot machines.

Has McDonald's scrapped Monopoly? ›

The annual competition was cancelled in 2020 because of coronavirus. McDonald's initially said it was simply pushing back the start date of the 2020 Monopoly game. That plan was scrapped altogether and the annual McDonald's Monopoly did not go ahead at all that year.

How do you get rare McDonald's Monopoly pieces? ›

You may find a rare game piece in McDonald's trash cans, dumpsters, or recycle bins. Be respectful of other customers and the requests of staff. You don't want to be banned from a conveniently located McDonald's because you made a mess or disturbed other customers. Some tips on dumpster diving can be found here.

Who is Uncle Jerry? ›

Uncle Jerry's real name is Jerome Jacobson, and he's a former police officer who was born in 1943 in Ohio, according to The Daily Beast expose which McMillions is based on. In the '80s, Jacobson started working at a printing company and closely worked with Simon Marketing, which oversaw the McDonald's Monopoly game.

Who was Uncle Jerry in McMillions? ›

Known as “Uncle Jerry”, Jacobson was a former police officer who became the head of security for Simon Marketing, the company employed by McDonald's to run the Monopoly game.

Was Ma Colombo really the informant? ›

The FBI agents obviously won't give up their source, but at the end of the episode, Frank and Heather Colombo reveal that Ma Colombo, Jerry Colombo's mother, was the informant, and she snitched in order to get Robin Colombo sent back to jail so that Ma could keep custody of Robin and Jerry's young son.

What monopoly pieces are discontinued? ›

Hasbro, which has owned the rights to the game since 1991, let fans vote in April to bring back one of six iconic retired tokens: thimble, wheelbarrow, iron, boot, horse and rider, or money bag. The thimble will take the place of the soon-to-be-extinct T-Rex, which itself was voted out of the game.

What do I do with McDonald's Monopoly? ›

Take your Instant Win game pieces into any participating McDonald's location to redeem them before the expiration date. You do not have to make a purchase to cash in an Instant Win prize, but keep in mind that these prizes cannot be used with other coupons or discounts.

Who owns McDonald's? ›

McDonald's is owned by different shareholders, as it's a publicly traded company. According to CNN Business reports, most of this company's owners are institutional investors, who make up 70.14% of the outstanding shares. Individual owners only make up about 0.31%.

Did any of the McMillions winners go to jail? ›

Jacobson receives his go to jail card

He was released in 2006 and currently lives outside Atlanta with his seventh wife, while making monthly restitution payments of $370.

How was McMillions rigged? ›

Who was involved? It was Jacobson who watched the winning pieces being printed, who locked them away in a vault, who sealed them up and tucked them in his vest and flew from factory to factory to hide them in McDonald's packaging, according to The Daily Beast, which looked back on the case years later.

What is the Mcdonalds tax controversy? ›

PARIS, June 16 (Reuters) - McDonald's (MCD. N) has agreed to pay $1.3 billion in fines and back taxes to settle a tax dispute in France, ending a long-running probe into whether the U.S. burger chain had properly declared all of its income in the country.

What mistake did the McDonald's brothers make when making the deal to be bought out? ›

If anything, the McDonald brothers just made a classic business mistake: cashing out too soon. It seems that the McDonald brothers were financially successful even before they met Kroc. In 1954, their single restaurant in San Bernardino netted them $100,000, or $900,000 in today's dollars.

Who broke the McDonald's Monopoly case? ›

Brennan: I have to say, I was delighted that “McMillions” held one last bombshell in reserve for the finale: the assertion that Ma Colombo, Jerry Colombo's mother, was the confidential informant whose tip to the FBI broke the case wide open — and that she did it in the battle over her grandson, not the McDonald's ...

What was the misspelling on Monopoly? ›

Marven Gardens is famous as a yellow property on the original version of the Monopoly game board, although the game misspelled the name as Marvin Gardens. The misspelling was introduced by Charles and Olive Todd, who taught the game to Charles Darrow, its eventual patentee.

Did the McDonalds brothers ever get the 1% deal of future earnings that was promised to them in their handshake deal? ›

"The Big M" closed six years later. It is alleged that as part of the buyout Kroc promised, based on a handshake agreement, to continue the annual 1% royalty of the original agreement, but there is no evidence of this beyond a claim by a nephew of the McDonald brothers.

Why didn t the McDonalds brothers get royalties? ›

The brothers did get a percentage of the profits. The original deal was 1.9 percent of a franchisee's profits. It went to the McDonald's Corporation and 0.5 percent of that went to Dick and Mac McDonald. The falsehood in the movie is that Ray screwed the brothers out of that half a percent.

Why did the McDonald brothers refuse to do it? ›

After turning McDonalds into a mecca of American popular culture, Kroc persisted in buying the original restaurant. The McDonald brothers strongly refused, because their intention was to leave it to the employees who had inaugurated it in 1940.

Why did McDonald's get rid of monopoly? ›

McDonald's faced backlash for the monopoly scam and in an attempt to distance itself from Simon Marketing, which had hired Jacobson, they cut ties with the company effective immediately.

Is McDonald's monopoly a con? ›

The prizes in McDonald's Monopoly Game are legit and distributed to the public. Every time it runs, thousands of people win smaller prizes like gift cards, free food, and more, but the big prizes are handed out as well. For one example, check out this interview with a $100,000 McDonald's Monopoly winner.

Has anyone successfully sued McDonald's? ›

Properly called "Liebeck v. McDonald's Restaurants," this is the case you think you know about but likely misunderstand. In 1992, per Consumer Attorneys of California, 79-year-old Stella Liebeck spilled hot McDonald's coffee on her lap and ended up winning nearly $3M in damages. Why?

What monopoly piece is no longer used? ›

Cannon (Retired)

Often called the cannon even though rumor is the piece was supposed to be called the howitzer, this piece is closely tied to the battleship. The cannon was also used in Conflict and tossed in with Monopoly as that game failed. In 1946, it changed from its original design to the long cannon style.

What is the forgotten rule of monopoly? ›

If you don't buy a property you land on it goes to auction for everyone for any bid amount. Had no idea,” they said. Many people replied to say they had also gone for some time without realising this was one of the rules.


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