The removal of the McDonald's logo in the UK comes amid falling profits and an attempt to refocus the fastfood chain's image towards healthier foods. However, while the changes draw attention to the company's healthier offerings, dropping such an iconic logo risks turning a clear-cut brand into a more ambiguous entity.

Last month, McDonald's revealed that in 2003 pre-tax profits from its 771 UK outlets plunged to their worst level since they entered the market in the 1970s, falling 71% to £23.6m (US$42.4m) from £83.8m the year before.

The fall in profits is largely attributable to a rise in healthy eating concerns among consumers, particularly following the recent media exposure over rising obesity levels. The International Obesity Task Force estimates that, in the UK, 21% of men and 24% of women are now classified as obese, a figure that has tripled since 1982. In response to this trend, McDonald's has recently phased out its Super Size jumbo portions and launched a range of healthier options, including salads and flatbreads. Yet, despite these initiatives, the company is having little success in countering its "unhealthy" image in the UK.

A new advertising campaign, beginning 15 October, will replace the golden arches with a yellow question mark and the line, "McDonald's. But not as you know it." The ads will display close-up pictures of new choices such as fresh salads, free-range eggs and fruit. Booklets detailing the new menus will also be sent to 17 million households in Britain.

The ads are meant to show that "the changes are big and bold", according to John Hawkes, the fastfood giant's British marketing director. However, using a question mark instead of the famous golden arches also risks creating a damaging sense of vacuousness around the brand.

Losing the company's most recognisable image is a therefore a risky undertaking, though it could prove a vital and necessary step in getting across a new message to increasingly health-conscious consumers. However, such a radical restructuring of both brand and product offering must be judged carefully. The move could end up alienating McDonald's core hamburger-loving customer base - which would be a commercial disaster if it also finds itself unable to win over the healthy eating fraternity.

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