Where’s Ronald? McDonald’s Mascot Takes Back Seat to Upscale Marketing

  • Share
  • Read Later
Ronald McDonald: You've been demoted

REUTERS / Fred Prouser

McDonald’s once billed the clown as its Chief Happiness Officer. But as the chain incubates a stronger café feel, it’s pulling Ronald McDonald from the limelight.

“He kind of represents the old McDonald’s, with the high-fat content foods that are kind of falling out of favor,” Bob Dorfman, the executive creative director of San Francisco-based Baker Street Advertising, told Bloomberg. “It’s clear that McDonald’s is advertising coffee, they’re not advertising burgers.”

(More on TIME.com: See why some people think the U.S. should crack down on Happy Meals)

It’s part of the chain’s drive to distance itself from its fast-food roots—and to appeal to consumers increasingly concerned about obesity and health. To shed its associations with saturated fat, the chain has introduced salads and fruit smoothies, and it’s reducing its food court aura by bringing in padded seats and offering complimentary WiFi. And given that trendy urbanites prefer espresso to sugary soft drinks, Mickey D’s has been pushing its McCafe coffee. Officials have credited the cups of Joe for the firm’s revenue growth in six of the past seven quarters.

With adults sipping all that coffee, officials have asked real-life (and lesser known) stars to appear in their ad campaign. Gone are commercials featuring the yellow-and-red clown frolicking with Mayor McCheese, the Hamburglar and the Fry Kids. Instead, R&B crooner Bryson “Cupid” Bernard serenades McCafe and “frappes so sweet and so creamy.”

Even if adults appear to be McDonald’s priority, it hasn’t forgotten about the kids. As part of its marketing mix it can’t make the Happy Meal less happy. As such, Ronald has a degree of job security. The character still appears on the Happy Meal box, attends school assemblies, and remains the face of around 300 Ronald McDonald Houses, which provide free accommodation for families with children in hospitals and hospices. That’s one association McCafe coffee will never top. (via Bloomberg)

(More on TIME.com: Watch how a McDonald’s BLT contributes to a Jason Alexander meltdown)