founder_ver2After stories about how Apple was created, how Facebook got its start and more tales of bristly entrepreneurs, the new movie The Founder takes on the creation of another American institution: McDonald’s. Michael Keaton stars as Ray Kroc, the man who over the last several decades has been hailed as the visionary creator of the ubiquitous fast food franchise. This tells the real (though still somewhat contested by the corporation and others) story, though, how Kroc took an idea he happened upon by chance and turned it into a multinational behemoth.

The movie follows Kroc from his life as a traveling salesman who one day crosses paths with the McDonald brothers (Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch), who have opened a burger joint in California that serves fresh hot meals in a matter of minutes. Kroc has the idea to franchise the operation and works to convince the skeptical brothers he’s right. Once he gets his foot in the door, though, he begins pushing them out of it, claiming the company as his own and creating an American institution in the process.

The Posters

founderThe first poster does a good job of setting up the story and the premise of the movie. Keaton is seen from behind standing in front of a giant version of the iconic Golden Arches, with copy in the middle declaring “Michael Keaton is The Founder.” At the top there’s also copy declaring “He took someone else’s idea and America ate it up.” That nicely summarizes Kroc’s place in history and establishes how the movie is going to view him.

The next poster brings Keaton closer to the camera, this time standing front and center in front of the golden arches, his hands at his hips like he’s assessing an important situation. The copy at the bottom reminds us this is based on a true story while that at the top describe’s Kroc’s character, calling him a “Rule breaker” and so on.

The Trailers

The first trailer does not paint a flattering portrait of Kroc, showing him to be an ambitious but sometimes cutthroat businessman. It starts as he’s trying to sell milkshake machines across the country. One day he get a big order from a new place called McDonald’s and he immediately falls in love with the business model. At first working with the brothers who founded it and had the idea he eventually feels like there’s more in it for him and works to cut them out. That’s not something they take lightly but he’s already in a position where it’s more or less inevitable.

Keaton really shines here as Kroc, playing him as someone who isn’t super sympathetic but who *is* ultimately responsible for the place we all feel bad about eating at. There are hints here of the old Beetlejuice-era Keaton, which is combined with his more dramatic side and he plays Kroc as someone who knows what he wants and goes after it. It’s a solid trailer that presents what could be another award-winner for those involved.

A second trailer was half the length, just a minute long, but carries over the same structure as the first, showing Kroc’s journey from traveling milkshake machine salesman to usurper of the McDonald’s name. That was followed by an “online trailer” that skipped the setup of Kroc’s origins and went straight to his trying to convince the McDonald’s brothers to sign off on his vision for things, as well as his subsequent efforts to go around them and get what he wants.

Online and Social

The second trailer starts playing when you load the official website. Unfortunately that’s just about the extent of the content on the site. When you close the trailer all you get is the key art of Keaton as Kroc along with links to the movie’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram profiles.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

TV spots like this one laid out the basic idea of the movie – that we’re watching the founding of McDonald’s from the ground up – and add on some of the critical praise it has already accumulated, making the case for the audience that this biopic is worth their time to go out and see.

Online ads used the key art of Keaton against the familiar red and yellow to drive ticket sales and site visits. Social media ads drove video views by using the trailers. It’s likely there were plenty of outdoor ads as well.

Media and Publicity

The publicity really kicked off with the release of a first still from the movie that showed Keaton as Kroc being received warmly by a crowd outside a McDonald’s restaurant.

Director Hancock talked in a nice New York Times feature about how he didn’t think this was so much a biopic about Kroc as much as it was about the McDonald’s iconography, also going into some detail about how they counted on “fair use” protections when using the company’s actual imagery, logos and products.

There was, of course, some news about the disputed nature of the origins of McDonald’s, with the brothers’ heirs telling one story and Kroc – and the company – taking another. That story also noted that the movie and its version of history comes at a time when the chain continues to be under attack for the nutritional value of its food as well as its corporate policies toward workers and more.


Keaton also hit the publicity circuit, with interviews that talked about his career overall to date and how he approached playing a real-life person who wasn’t exactly the most scrupulous fellow. That included a couple talk-show check-ins, duty he shared with other members of the cast as well.


The campaign is really built around Keaton, which isn’t surprising given his increased profile since Birdman, Spotlight and other returns to mainstream audience and critical awareness in recent years. It’s his performance that forms the foundation of the marketing, with his name and face all over the place as the trailers focus on Kroc’s journey from humble – and sometimes humiliating – beginnings to being the head of a company that he believed epitomized America. He does play what’s essentially the title role so that’s not surprising that he’d be the focal point, but it also shows how much Weinstein Co. is counting on him once again being a box-office draw, this time not for his wild antics but now for his role as a prestige actor.

As to the story itself, it looks more or less like a standard biopic that tells the story of one person’s journey to success. So with little new on that front to sell, the campaign makes the choice to focus on Keaton and the idea that we’re going back to the origins of a company we’ve all eaten at one time or another and with varying degrees of frequency. That “look behind the curtain” angle isn’t played up quite as strongly and certainly doesn’t lend itself to the sharing of pull quotes from critics but is there, almost as if it’s being sold as a curiosity piece, the chance for people to learn something without having to endure a documentary. On both fronts, the movie is being sold as a light, fast-paced biopic with an interesting, punchy rhythm and a standout performance from Keaton.
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