Did McDonald’s Invent the Most Lethal Slogan Ever?


Even to people who were not yet alive for its debut, the expression “You deserve a break today” is familiar. (McDonald’s gave up the trademark on the slogan a couple of years back, so now anyone can say it.) It is being examined here today because of a hidden link between the slogan and the obesity epidemic, and especially its connection with a phenomenon known as FOMO, or “fear of missing out.”

“You deserve a break today” might be one of the most harmful arrangements of words ever strung together. According to the McDonald’s Corporation, what, exactly, is it that you deserve? A fast-food exec put it like this: “A tasty reward for everyday living.” But many disgruntled critics here and in other countries characterize the corporation’s products as industrially processed pseudo-food with ingredients that compete with each other to be the most health-defeating.

Unpacking the winning propaganda

One of the most popular sentiments for a friend or co-worker to write on a card is “Thanks for all you do.” Everyone likes to hear that.

So McDonald’s took advantage of this human weakness, and elevated it to the next level. The underlying message is, “The Universe recognizes what an exemplary human being you are, and wonderful people like you must be rewarded. Food is a reward, so go eat some. (BTW you will pay for it at the register, and again in terms of your damaged health.)” They condensed that message down to “You deserve a break today.”

Commercial advertising is designed to work on human insecurity and all our other most vulnerable and deplorable traits. If the armor has a chink, advertising stands ready to exploit it. Ad Age (aka Advertising Age) named the McDonald’s slogan the top jingle of the 20th century. What that means in practical terms is, it’s the best at getting into people’s heads.

The intention of the slogan is to set up a subconscious chain of reasoning that goes like this: “Why yes, now that you mention it, I do deserve a break. It’s my due. I am entitled to wolf down 3,000 calories with no nutritional value. If I don’t get what’s due to me, I’m a sucker, a loser.”

The reality is the exact opposite

People who are influenced by hype are the suckers and the losers, and that includes all of us at one time or another. This is complicated by the fact that a sense of entitlement is basically a good and healthy trait, according to a more sane and helpful subconscious reasoning process that might go like this:

“I deserve the best possible food. It’s my due, as a human being on this planet, to nourish my physical vehicle with the full spectrum of vitamins, minerals, and all the other necessary components of a diet that will optimize the functions of this body and mind.

I am entitled to fresh produce that is not covered with poison or genetically engineered for color and size uniformity rather than flavor. If I don’t pursue these entitlements, I miss out on some of life’s blessings.

But, because we are human, things are liable to get twisted. The sensation of having a need and a duty to reward oneself can become an obsession. Dr. Pretlow says:

An 18-year-old boy in our third study passed by the cinnamon roll outlet in the mall but managed not to go in. When he got home he felt quite disappointed, and seriously considered going back to the mall. The next day the nagging thought persisted that he needed to go back to the mall and get the cinnamon roll. Even a week later the thought still bugged him.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “McDonald’s Drops Rights to ‘You Deserve a Break,'” HuffingtonPost.com, 01/11/15
Photo by GollyGforceLiving on Visualhunt/CC BY

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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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