What do Santa Claus and Ronald McDonald have in common? They’re among the most widely recognized children’s figures in the world. The globe-trotting Ronald launched his career in the early 1960s as the “Hamburger-Happy Clown” in television spots promoting the fast food giant’s fare to kids. Now, nearly fifty years after the clown first starting hooking kids on fast food, a Boston-based nonprofit has launched a campaign to give Ronald the boot.
Corporate Accountability International is calling for Ronald to retire. The organization and allies around the country are calling for the company to end the use of Ronald to lure young kids into liking its unhealthy fast food.
I agree. It’s high time for Ronald to head down to Florida to work on his tan now that diet-related illnesses cost our health care system nearly as much as tobacco-related ones and childhood obesity and early onset diabetes is a national crisis.
Think of the analogy with Joe the Camel, the mascot who ruled the advertising kingdom of the R. J. Reynolds’ brand from 1987 to 1997. Joe, critics charged, was also deployed to lure kids into smoking. While the company has always denied that Joe was designed with kids in mind, evidence to the contrary seems pretty damning.
A 1991 study published in the Journal of American Medical Association, for instance, showed 5 and 6 year olds could better recognize Joe than Mickey Mouse of Fred Flintstone. In the wake of this research, a lawsuit was filed against the company for targeting of kids with its tobacco products. And in 1997, R.J. Reynolds settled out of court, giving millions to California cities named in the suit to use in anti-smoking marketing campaigns. It also replaced Joe with a more “adult” looking camel.
It’s too soon to know the outcome of the Retire Ronald campaign, but considering that the children’s health crisis is now in the national spotlight, his retirement may come sooner than we think. And, maybe down in sunny Fort Lauderdale, Ronald and Joe can play some sounds of golf together.