Euro RSCG PR's Marian Salzman is your North America ThinkTank commentator until the summer. She will be responding to events in the region on a weekly basis, offering a provocative view of the PR issues at stake. You can reach Marian at [email protected]
Is Ronald McDonald about to retire his wig? According to the AP, Mr. McDonald, at 48, is in the throes of a mid life crisis. That flame haired icon of a greasy, fries-filled youth may be hitting the highway, and looking for other work soon. With all of the sensitivity toward marketing to children and childhood obesity, Ronald is decidedly out of fashion and a group called Corporate Accountability International plans to ask Ronald to retire at McDonald’s annual meeting.
I can’t help but wonder whether this is really necessary. Is retiring a beloved and iconic mascot the answer to our problems? Or is it more about McDonald’s new mission to satisfy us with salads, lattes, and smoothies? Think about the Burger King King, resurrected by Crispin Porter + Bogusky. Suddenly the childhood icon became a creepy cult hero for that coveted 18-34 year old age group. Then McDonald’s crept up and decided it would play grown-up, fat-conscious foodie to BK’s hyper-metabolized frat boy, and it paid off. Retiring poor Ronald seems harsh, even if he is a bit out of step with the McDonald’s mission of today.
Perhaps they could put him in some running attire, or give him a makeover with a smart new haircut. Or have him become an advocate for healthy eating (despite his maniacal smile) through a variety of apps and social media networks that all the kids are using these days.
In terms of marketing to kids, the real story might be Skecher’s rather odd decision to market its popular Shape Ups sneakers to children, particularly young girls around the age of seven. In many ways, the brand could defend itself and say they are joining the nation in our battle against childhood obesity. But moms and feminists alike are irked by this message because it’s teaching young girls the wrong message- is it really appropriate to tell children to shape their buns and thighs?
Which brings me to the real issue. Yes marketers have a responsibility to be mindful when marketing to children, but it’s the parents who need to make real decisions for their kids: cook at home more often and take your kids on long walks in the park. Ronald or no Ronald, it’s an era of many choices when it comes to what we eat, and the symbolic gesture of rounding up Ronald and putting him out to pasture is just that - symbolic. Perhaps there’s a movie in there somewhere…I’m picturing an old-age home full of retired advertising icons - Ronald, the King, the Lucky Charms Leprechaun, Cap’n Crunch…reminiscing about a time when eating a burger was really only about a cheap meal on the go.
In all seriousness, I applaud McDonald’s stepping out of the happy meal box and offering up some healthier options. Though I suspect keeping old Ronald around would not contribute any further to our childhood obesity problem - it’s more about education and partnering with our children to help them make smart decisions when it comes to meal time, because that’s a happy meal indeed.