Ronald McDonald Makes a Comeback as Happy Meals Come Under New Fire

Filed under: In The News

ronald mcdonald

The clown is back. Credit: Getty Images

He's baaaack.

Just when you thought it was safe to eat a 510-calorie Quarter Pounder with cheese, the clown is back.

McDonald's is bringing Ronald McDonald back to television and raising his Web presence just as New York City Council members are attacking Happy Meals as a "predatory marketing technique" aimed at children.

Coincidence?

Maybe the clown does have an agenda. The Wall Street Journal reports council members are considering a bill to outlaw toys in Happy Meals that don't meet recommended calorie and nutrition recommendations.

Ronald has been conspicuously absent in recent years, while McDonald's execs tout salads, Angus burgers and other items geared toward grown-ups.

Even milk shakes come with whipped cream and look like something out of a Starbucks.

Now, here comes Ronald, the Journal reports, telling kids and their parents to go to HappyMeal.com where they can find games to play and photos to create with Ronald.

Ah, but what does the clown have up his striped sleeve?

"With the return of Ronald, McDonald's is reverting back to advertising directly to kids, rather than advertising to kids through their parents," branding strategist Adam Hanft, chief executive of marketing firm Hanft Projects, tells the Journal.

Targeting kids directly works, he adds.

"But the problem with creating these little armies of kids is that you turn the parents against the brand," Hanft tells the newspaper.

Ronald has found himself a social pariah before. The Journal remembers how the corporate-watchdog group Corporate Accountability International referred to him as "a deep-fried Joe Camel for the 21st century."

However, McDonald's Chief Creative Officer Marlena Peleo-Lazar comes to Ronald's defense.

"His job is to reflect the fun of the brand," she tells the newspaper, pointing out that Ronald hasn't been used to promote specific food products in years.

Ronald's renewed presence is to show him as a sort of clown about town, "out and about in the world," Peleo-Lazar tells the Journal.

Fun fact: The first Ronald McDonald was former "Today" weatherman Willard Scott. He worked as Bozo the Clown for a local Washington, D.C., children's program. As Bozo, he often made promotional appearances at McDonald's.

After his Bozo gig dried up, he approached McDonald's about appearing as a new clown character. Ronald was born.

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