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October 7, 2015

An Open Letter to the People Who Hate Ronald McDonald

by Bob Sassone, posted Apr 1st 2010 2:35PM
Ronald McDonaldDear Corporate Accountability International,

First, congratulations on the awesome name for your organization. I think you might have just created a new show for CBS. 'CAI: Boston.' From the creators of CSI. A team of social do-gooders investigate corporations and try to stop evil advertising mascots from taking over the world. New this fall!

I picture Tim Daly and Jennifer Garner in the roles (if they're not available, maybe Dean Cain and Katee Sackhoff?).

I have to tell you though, I'm not at all happy about your attempt to get McDonald's to drop Ronald McDonald from their TV commercials and other ads.

You say that... "For 50 years, Ronald McDonald has hooked kids on unhealthy food." Actually, I would argue that it's parents who have hooked their kids on unhealthy food. After all, the only kids who are going to be enchanted or influenced by a clown with red hair and Batman villain-ish clothing are kids that can't buy the food themselves. Anyone who can go up to the counter at McDonald's and actually order the food are 1.) older, and 2.) don't care about Ronald McDonald at all. Or are you saying that parents are influenced by the clown?

I grew up on McDonald's food. Back when I was a kid (say, from 1969 to 1976), I only had one McDonald's near me, and even that was 20 or 30 miles away. I remember it was actually a special trip to go to McDonald's, a place my mom or sister would take me to after we did our shopping at the mall (this was back before there was a McDonald's in my hometown). But I can't remember ever being influenced by the guy. I mean, he's a clown. I've always been freaked out by clowns. The weird clothing, the fake smile. I will admit that I did like the Hamburgler and Grimace.

I understand that you also helped get rid of Joe Camel from Camel cigarette advertising. While I don't think kids were influenced by Joe either (there seems to be this weird assumption that adults don't like cartoon characters and mascots), I understand why you'd want to attack cigarettes. But food isn't cigarettes. We don't need cigarettes, but we do need food, and even the worst food for you (cheeseburgers, milkshakes, french fries, fried Ding Dongs, ice cream covered gravy, chocolate covered potato chips, most of the places Guy Fieri visits on 'Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives') can be fine in moderation.

Hey, I'll admit that this commercial is pretty scary...

...but we've moved beyond a Willard Scott Ronald having a food tray as a hat and the Ronald that we've grown to love over the past several decades isn't so weird anymore. And I have to wonder what you think is going to happen if you do succeed in getting McDonald's to drop Ronald. Suddenly parents are going to have this discussion?

Dad: "Hey, did you hear that McDonald's no longer has Ronald McDonald as their mascot?"
Mom: "Really? Hey kids, let's go get some salad!"

I'm probably a little overweight now, but I haven't been to a McDonald's more than once in the past ten years. Have you seen some of the people who eat at McDonald's all the time? Have you ever seen 'The Biggest Loser?' Have you ever walked the streets and seen people who... well, let's just say they should be wearing tank tops and Spandex?

Exactly. If you get rid of Ronald McDonald, people will still go to McDonald's and order from Papa John's and Domino's, and they'll give it to their kids, too. Does the guy who owns Papa John's have to stop doing commercials? Do we have to get kids to stop playing with dominoes because it might make them think of Domino's? Does Burger King have to get rid of the King, too? (Actually, the answer to that last one is yes, but for completely different reasons.) Why pick on Ronald, someone who -- as far as I can tell -- doesn't even seem to be a major part of their ads anymore?

I think you should devote more of your time and energy to getting McDonald's to get rid of their awful "I'm Lovin' It" slogan. Now that's a cause I can get behind.

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I couldn't agree with you more. Also that commercial is scary. http://bit.ly/bJmlTH

April 08 2010 at 1:19 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The idea that kids are drawn to a restaurant or food item entirely because of the advertising is an insult to their intelligence. Kids know what tastes good to them, and what tastes gross. If it tastes awful, they won't eat it no matter what super colorful, happy, cheesey character represents the product. Maybe CAI should be encouraging McDonalds to make their food taste like dirt. Literally. That would make a bigger difference in children's eating habits.

But at the end of the day, it is up to the parents to eat their. The dirt solution solves that problem, too.

April 07 2010 at 5:16 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Eric H

As a kid not to long ago and now a parent I can honestly say that neither me or my daughter have been influenced by Ronald McDonald. I always wanted the toy based on the new movie that I wanted to see. I asked my daughter and she only had the vaguest since who Ronald is. Clowns just don't do it for kids anymore. The only place I can recall seeing him in the last 15 years are the fiberglass Ronalds taking up space on the benches outside of McDonalds. Some of the "facts" this group spouts off about McD are ludicrous. Under the section where they are putting down the clown they have a bit devoted to the proximity of McD to schools. This allows children to get the fast food without parental consent. I am assuming they mean high school students, and if they haven't learned good eating its far too late, and the will not be swayed by a clown. Maybe I am missing something, maybe Ronald is sitting in alleys next to schools handing out Happy Meals for free, laughing at their growing waist line.

April 05 2010 at 9:24 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Here's something that hasn't been mentioned yet - kids are a lot more intelligent and media-savvy than some people would like to think. By the time they reach school age, they know they're being marketed to.

Sure, they might still want to buy the product, but then, adults want to buy things they see in commercials too.

And to be honest, when my daughter and her childhood best friend were little, on the few occasions we went to McD's, they were a lot more interested in the playground than they were Ronald. Is this organization going to brand the play area an "attractive nuisance" next?

I guess I'm just a contrarian by nature - groups like this make me want to go out and indulge in whatever they're railing against.

April 02 2010 at 8:41 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

McDonalds was around when I was a kid but the big difference was we had parents who acted like parents instead of trying to be our friends. Back then, going to McDonalds was a treat you got once in a while, not as an everyday occurrance.

I love the liberal logic that tells us watching images of violence in movies, televison and video games doesn't make people prone to violence but seeing a clown in a commercial automatically makes kids obese. Can we all just develop a sense of personal responsibility already.

April 02 2010 at 8:27 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Here's the thing they don't tell you. You try taking a family of four out for dinner and still have money to pay the mortgage, the electric bill, the cable bill and other expenses. McDonald's is still affordable to many parents that need a break. It's the economy, stupid!

April 02 2010 at 8:09 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to chipramsey's comment
Marcus Gorman

It's even cheaper (and healthier) to cook food at home. Cheap price does not automatically equal good.

Fast food every once in a while is okay, but the last two generations especially treat it as the norm instead of the exception.

April 06 2010 at 2:36 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Marcus Gorman

And yes, I understand that you said "go out for dinner," but there are better ways, including methods to increase one's local economy by avoiding franchises and eat healthier, and still not give up too much money.

But there is a point where the economic, health and ideological negatives of eating a piece-of-crap 99-cent burger doesn't make up for indulging in the drug that it is. And yes, it is a drug. A very tasty drug. I just don't consider the ease and price worth what I end up paying in all other factors.

Take pizza. My wife made a full pizza last night, and after four slices, I had only consumed about 350 calories. Not everyone has the capabilities or time to do such a thing, but you can find this type of item out there easily, and not in the calorie-fest that is pizza from Dominos or Pizza Hut.

April 06 2010 at 2:41 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Friend of Food

Here's a response from someone who actually works at Corporate Accountability. Thought we should hear what the other side has to say:

Isn't this really an issue of parental responsibility?

The big problem is McDonald's uses Ronald to get around "gatekeepers," the terms executives use to describe parents intent on making healthy choices for their kids. He's a deep-fried Joe Camel for the 21st Century. He's everywhere parents can't constantly monitor and he's effective at making children desire what they're told they can't have.

A lot of parents only take their kids to McDonald's once in a blue moon. Can you really fault them?

That's a good question and we aren't saying parents should never take kids to McDonald's. Given the unhealthiness of the food it'd be better if it were a rare treat versus a regular destination. The problem is McDonald's marketing is effective in making its franchises as the breakfast, lunch, and dinner spot for far too many of the nation's children.

Why not just advocate that Ronald market healthier alternatives?

McDonald's already uses supposedly "healthier" offerings to lure parents to its franchises, but though a side of apples in caramel dipping sauce can substitute for fries, the Happy Meal is still a vehicle for branding the corporation's bread and butter: burgers, soda, and fries.

Why not just advocate for programs that provide an alternative to fast food instead of demonizing McDonald's?

We do, however the success of alternatives depends very directly on removing a major obstacle - the use of Ronald McDonald to market junk food to kids. The ad budgets behind Ronald and related predatory marketing initiatives crowds out alternatives and makes it difficult for children to embrace alternatives.

Why go after McDonald's not junk food like candy, soda pop, etc.?

Today Ronald is as recognized as Santa Claus. No other salesman for unhealthy food can make that claim. And no junk food corporation is as well-recognized McDonald's. This corporation pioneered the predatory art of marketing unhealthy products to children that a range of junk food purveyors and soda pop corporations have since emulated. For close to 50 years, McDonald's has modeled bad behavior, think what they could do if they modeled good behavior and retired their clown mascot.

Why target McDonald's instead of policies that would limit marketing to kids?

If corporations are, in fact, people as the Supreme Court long ago ruled, then they have rights and responsibilities like you and I. Now McDonald's trumpets its so-called "corporate responsibility" programs which, by and large...and by the confession of its own executives, is really just marketing by another name. Well, we're telling the corporation this is what true corporate responsibility looks like - retire a clown that is making kids sick. The corporation needn't wait for future laws when it can do the right thing today.

What do you have to say about Ronald McDonald Charities? Haven't Ronald and the McDonald's charities done a great deal for sick kids?

There's no question the charities have done a great deal to help sick kids - and its work is to be commended. There are serious questions raised when it comes to having the face of a charity that helps kids get better, promote unhealthy food to our kids. Why must the corporation use such an honorable cause as a marketing opportunity? Could it not serve the same children, without the cross-promotion of its burgers and fries? The affixing of its unhealthy brand to a health institution?

Isn't McDonald's doing a lot to provide healthier choices?

What the fast food industry doesn't want you to know is that many of its "healthier" choices are actually worse for you than its mainstays. Take for example McDonald's Premium Bacon Ranch Salad with Crispy Chicken. Just because it's a salad doesn't mean it has less calories than a Big Mac. In fact, the sal

April 01 2010 at 11:42 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
BC McKinney

Ronald McDonald is creepy and unappealing, which makes him a *perfect* spokesperson for McDonald's "food" products.

April 01 2010 at 10:18 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Advertising to children is always dangerous. Even a McDonald's underwriting for a PBS program is a commercial advertisement, even if no products are mentioned.

Ronald McDonald is synonymous with McDonald's. The Ronald McDonald House, while it is an exceptional charity, is still an advertisement for McDonald's.

Remember the McKids Nintendo game? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/McKids

April 01 2010 at 9:37 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I enjoy McDonalds every now and then but I am a huge fan of Ronald. He visits sick children in hospitals. That familiarity with Ronald brings a smile to many a kid's face. And the charities set up around the clown make it easy for families to stay close to the children when they seek treatment. The first Ronald McDonald house was established in Philadelphia with plenty of help from the Eagles but 10 years later Joan Kroc put the full weight of the corporation behind the charities. Prior to his death, Ray Kroc was always an advocate for helping sick children.
And the charity is still going strong today. KEEP THE CLOWN!!! http://rmhc.org/

April 01 2010 at 9:18 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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