Ronald McDonald Won't Be Retiring Any Time Soon

An Ad Age Editorial

Published on .

Don't expect to see Ronald McDonald heading off to the retirement home any time soon.

A few weeks ago, a group called Corporate Accountability International launched a website called "Retire Ronald," asking consumers to sign a petition and send in photos of themselves urging McDonald's to put down the clown.

"It's time that Ronald McDonald joined Joe Camel in retirement," argues Corporate Accountability International on its "Retire Ronald" website. The art on the site shows Ronald being welcomed to a retirement home by Joe Camel, Spuds McKenzie and the Marlboro Man.

CAI isn't only pushing for an end to Ronald. It wants the fast-feeder to end pretty much any marketing effort designed to appeal to children and to eliminate all the toys placed in kids' meals.

CAI may even have a point about baiting kids' meals with toys. But the comparison of Ronald McDonald to Joe Camel is a stretch. And we're not saying that because we have a soft spot for corporate mascots. Indeed, back when CAI (known as Infect at the time) led the charge to ban Joe Camel from R.J. Reynolds' ads, Ad Age penned an editorial in 1992 declaring that "Old Joe Must Go."

The fact is that Ronald McDonald isn't central to the most visible advertising efforts by the fast-feeder. He's certainly nowhere near as ubiquitous as Old Joe was back in the day. On top of that, McDonald's has enlisted the clown in its efforts to deliver messages about the importance of physical activity. That may be a cynical ploy to cover its tracks, but the fact is fast food is OK in small doses and if a consumer leads an active lifestyle.

More important, McDonald's, unlike Big Tobacco, hasn't been sitting on decades worth of hushed-up studies proving its product is dangerous to your health.

And, of course, Ronald McDonald, aside from being an American icon since 1963, is the face of Ronald McDonald House Charities, an organization that, according to McDonald's, helps 4 million children a year.

That means that CAI, in battling an "obesity epidemic" that can be controlled through consumer choice, would be targeting, as McDonald's put it, "the heart and soul" of an organization that fights actual terminal illness.

That doesn't strike us as a winning PR pitch.

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