Monday, April 19, 2010

The call to retire Ronald McDonald

Notice I didn't title the post the call for Ronald McDonald to retire.

There's a difference there. Some news reports on this new campaign, a campaign spearheaded by Corporate Accountability International at Retire Ronald, suggest that the campaign is simply for McDonald's to give the clown his walking papers.

That's actually not the case, the case is to retire the ability of the food industry to utilize characters like Ronald to market their fare to kids.


Because that clown embodies an advertising practice that has preyed on generations of children and certainly has been a real contributor to societal obesity. That practice? Targeting children who aren't able to discern truth from advertising to utilize kids' "nag power" to control their parents' purse strings while at the same time cultivating lifelong brand loyalty.

Ronald's more than just a restaurant clown, he's also a charity clown in places like Ronald McDonald house, a comfort clown in hospitals, a teacher clown in schools and an activity clown at sporting events.

Ultimately though, he's still a clown and as such he's clearly designed to appeal to our children.

The call isn't for McDonald's to retire Ronald, it's for society to retire him. Pressure from society to lawmakers may ultimately lead Ronald and his ilk to be legislated out the door.

From their report, The Case for Ronald McDonald's Retirement, Corporate Accountability International's call for action includes:

• The end of all use of celebrities, cartoons, and branded and licensed characters that appeal to children

• The elimination of all gifts, toys, collectibles, games or other incentive items from kids meals;


• The removal of all advertising and promotional materials from places children visit frequently including schools, playgrounds, recreation and community centers, and pediatric health care centers.

I signed the retire Ronald petition. Will you?

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  1. "The elimination of all gifts, toys, collectibles, games or other incentive items from kids meals" AMEN! I wonder if that would include the playlands, which suck kids and parents in like flies to honey. For a while I had convinced myself it was nice for the kids to burn off some steam after lunch, but when you think of the marketing implications behind it, well, it's not good.

  2. I signed, but I doubt it will do much good. They have moved their marketing to adults more than kids now. They show adults - usually minorities - enjoying the dollar menu. In the end, it will cost them far more than that dollar.

  3. Yoni,

    I will not sign the petition because I believe it's a diversion. I certainly do not endorse any fast food or junk food, however, it seems like McDonald's is the "poster child" and piñata for all junk food.

    McDonald's is one culprit among hundreds (maybe thousands). So, to single it out is meaningless.

    There's a huge campaign going on now to stop texting and driving - PSAs and more. That's what we need in regard to the health and obesity problem.

    Sadly, it ain't happening.

  4. Hi Yoni et al,

    Some interesting discussion here for sure. Larraine, I agree how important it is to focus on value not as what you pay at the register, but as an assessment of what something actually costs. In the case of McDonald's products we're measuring the true cost in skyrocketing health care costs for certain.

    Ken, I'd invite you to share more because I'm not certain I follow your logic around the singling out of McDonald's and how texting and driving contributes to obesity.

    The initiative is not just calling on McDonald's to stop predatory marketing for one, though it uses McDonald's to make an important point.

    What's more, McDonald's pioneered and popularized the twisted art of predatory marketing. I don't think you could find a better corporation to challenge when it comes to stopping such practices at large. They set an example that has been emulated by junk food corporations, Big Tobacco and beyond...they could certainly stand to set an example that helps undo what they've done.

    They also spend as much as $400 million each year bombarding kids with advertising...that's a pretty powerful chunk of change that I can't imagine they'd be spending if it didn't work.

    Nevertheless, Yoni, thanks for the post. I look forward to reading more on this and related subjects now that I've come upon Weighty Matters.

  5. I'm not much of a fan of McDonalds' Food, but I don't think it's right to limit their freedom in the open market and they're certainly not doing anything illegal here...

    It's a parent's responsibility to teach their kids about the world - including to help provide a context for nutritional choices. A parent doesn't have to give in whenever their child asks for something.

    And what's so wrong about every once in awhile, indulging in a treat? :)

  6. Nick,

    To clear up my unclear statement:

    "There's a huge campaign going on now to stop texting and driving - PSAs and more. That's what we need in regard to the health and obesity problem."

    We need PSAs that address the obesity/health problem. If it can be done for texting and driving, it certainly can be accomplished for obesity/health.

    Ken Leebow

  7. Anonymous1:50 pm

    I haven't seen Ronald McDonald in restaurants in years. I wasn't aware that he was still being used. Maybe this is just a Quebec thing? I know that Quebec is more strict on advertising to children.

  8. Anonymous10:02 am

    Last night I was reading an assigned reader with my 7 year old. It was a review of grade 1 reading readiness that asked the child to recognize 3 trademarks. She cold identify Esso as gas, was confounded by 7up (thought this must be for big kids like herself (7) and older. She had no trouble identifying the golden arches as McDonalds. She has never been to McDonalds. I asked where she knew it from. "Lots of places, at school, everywhere." Clearly it works.