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McDonald's Pressured to Oust Ronald

Posted by Dale Buss on May 18, 2011 05:30 PM

It’s becoming apparent that childhood-obesity watchdogs aren’t going to be happy until Ronald McDonald is in a different set of vertical stripes — more like the black and white ones found on the Hamburglar.

A group of activist physicians (including Patch Adams and Andrew Weil) and health advocates have stepped up a pressure campaign against McDonald's to bench the 43-year-old iconic mascot – and oh yes, by the way, to stop marketing its nutritionally suspect fare to children.

A group calling itself Corporate Accountability International took out full-page advertisements in several major US newspapers today including the text of an open letter to McDonald's CEO Jim Skinner under the headline, “Doctors’ Orders: Stop Marketing Junk Food to Kids."

The group also planned to send representatives to McDonalds’ annual shareholder meeting tomorrow (where a group of Philadelphia nuns will also be lobbying to oust Ronald) to make an in-person plea for his retirement.

The 550 or so signatories to the letter insist that the brand mascot should be retired because fast-food marketers must begin to take more responsibility for their role in America’s childhood-obesity epidemic.

“[The] contributors to today’s health epidemic are manifold and a broad societal response is required,” the letter reads in part. “But marketing can no longer be ignored as a significant part of this massive problem.”

McDonald's executives understand that this same group helped stable Joe Camel back in the Nineties, but today defended Ronald McDonald and their marketing practices.

“We understand the importance of children’s health and nutrition, and are committed to being a part of the dialogue and solution," McDonald's responded in a statement to the Wall Street Journal. "We serve high quality food, and our Happy Meals offer choice and variety in portions just for kids.”

The company also pointed out that Ronald is the face of its major Ronald McDonald House charity, which shelters families when they need to be close to a hospital for treatment of children’s serious illnesses. Barbara Walters hosted a fund-raising gala just this week for Ronald McDonald House. Didn’t she get the memo?

Another nail in the coffin for old Ronald: a new survey that finds that kids tend to think the old-fashioned clown is “creepy” in an era of more sophisticated marketing to children. If Ronald is such a turn-off to kids, physicians and nutritionists alike, he may be joining Joe Camel behind bars after all.


fawn United States says:

Just wondering when PARENTS will start being held responsible for their children's obesity???
I grew up with McDonalds: and MISS all the quaint little characters we rarely see, such as hamburglar and grimace. My children all grew up with McDonalds. We are NOT obese: and my children (now teens and 20s) are in excellent shape well within the 'norms'.
I did not feed them McDonald's every day. But I have great memories taking my kids for Happy Meals and watching them play in the play yard. I Plan on doing the same with my grand kids.
If you need a scapegoat for children's obesity (other than the parents who feed their kids), why don't you look into the 'powers that be' who add high fructose corn syrup to almost ALL our foods these days, or the makers of margarine, or the wonderful folks who put hydrogenated oils in the food??  There are a LOT of things that contribute to obesity. But the bottom line is that PARENTS are the ones who control how much of what goes into their children's diets.  

May 18, 2011 06:43 PM #

Sam United States says:

Unfortunately you dont understand the reality: parents cannot police a child 24 hours a day. You can control what they eat AT HOME. If you live in a city for example, you cannot prevent your child from going to McDonalds during a school break or after school.

But they remain a child and should receiver protection from predatory marketing, which is what this is. So you do depend on them being protected from marketing that induced them to buy junk.

Plus, fast food is NOT supposed to be meant for kids. It can be justified as cheap fast food for people with no time. But this has no business being a primary diet for a growing child - or anyone with an interest in health at all.

There is a saying that it takes a village to raise a child. Well as a society we are failing our children when we expose them to this kind of marketing and mental conditioning that says fast food is good for them.

That is the reality. YES we need kids to be protected from this.

May 19, 2011 03:50 AM #

David United States says:

Are you kidding me? We never had problems as a kid going to McDonalds more than we should. You know why? Because our parents taught us the right way. Not too each too much fast food, spend your money wisely and most of all to have common sense.

No, you can't control what they eat, but what Micky D's sells today is light years healthier vs. when I/we were kids. Stop tyring to pass the blame on to somoene else and take responsibility as a parent. Your comments make me sick.

May 19, 2011 08:21 AM #

Sam United States says:

Better than in your day doesnt say much, since what McDonalds sells isn't really food - it's industrially processed mock-food. What's sick is peddling it to  kids.

The US is one of the worst petforming rich countries wgen it comes to juvenile health, especiallky diabetes, obesity and so on  We are also laggards when it cones to protecting chdren from advertising.

And yet we wonder why our health costs are skyrocketing? I'm a marketing professional myself, but at sone point one had to realise that not everything is okay and that regation is necessary where market participants refuse to self police, leaving society holding the bag.

Ronald McDonald is the relic of an age when cars had no seatbelts, segregation was "normal", alcohol toddies were given to sick babies and it was okay to whip your misbehaving child to a pulp. But it's time to move on, if not voluntarily then by force.

May 19, 2011 08:52 AM #

Alletse United States says:

I agree with fawn. Kids now a days do less exercise because of video games and because parents don't go outside with their kids and play with them. So what's next? Getting rid of tv video games and cartoon characters? The only guilty ones are the parents! They are the ones taking their kids out to eat mcdonalds instead of cooking a healthy meal and then eating mcdonalds once a week.

May 18, 2011 07:17 PM #

Sherri Long United States says:

This really breaks my heart. I understand how important it is to combat childhood obesity and to promote healthier habits. It is also the responsibility of the parents to make sure their kids are eating right and excersising. We live in a society that is so fast paced and impersonal. Too much going at home with work, school, and other activities that there is no time left to properly prepare a meal, sit down with family and actually eat and enjoy it. That is where this epidemic comes in place. I personally love Ronald McDonald and miss the characters of yesteryear from McDonaldLand. I was a very picky eater as a child, so it was difficult for my poor Mom to get me to eat certain things. She told me that Ronald McDonald was the reason I ate my first hamburger as I wouldn't touch them on my own. Something appealing about a happy clown. She also told me that Charlie Tuna got me to like tuna fish and fish in general. Sometimes these fictional characters do serve a purpose, they did for me. No, my Mom didn't take me to McDonalds every other day, we ate at home 90 percent of the time. Basically I am saying that to blame a happy clown or a cartoon fish for this countrys obesity problem is plain absurd. The blame is the parents, they are the ones that choose to take their kids to McDonalds or Chucky Cheese on a constant basis. All things in moderation and that includes McDonalds.

May 18, 2011 08:19 PM #

Mike United States says:

Sam, sorry bro, but you're off your rocker.  This is entirely about parental responsibility, and McDonald's or any other private enterprise is not to blame.  If you want to point a finger, point it at school lunch programs.  They're terrible . . . and they actually should be held accountable since our children don't have any other option (with the obvious exception of bringing lunch, which we're forced to do more often than not).  Villifying McDonald's is completely missing the point.

May 19, 2011 11:09 AM #

Sam United States says:

"Entirely about parental responsibility"? That makes no sense. Following such logic, we would not spend money on having the DEA chase drug dealers. And we shouldnt worry about nudity or porn on TV either. After all that too is "purely about parental responsibility", isnt it?

No, the fact is that at some point we do need to draw the line about what we do and dont want peddled to kids. Which should include fake food that is direct driver of obesity and heart diseease in this country. You ask people if they want their tax money spent on covering health care costs and they say no - yet they are perfectly happy to have the drivers of heath care cost floating around there totally unchecked, simply because it is profitable for private actors.

Sorry, not of that works. We are not a wild west. We are modern society and we need to have standards for what kind of products we allow marketers to peddle to kids. This is not the 1950's /- there are things we need to be more responsible about. Simple as that.

May 19, 2011 03:08 PM #

Matt Australia says:

I am a parent from the Gold Coast In Australia. I have children who eat McDonald's as a treat from time to time. I have to say that as far as kids meals go, I don't often see Ronald McDonald on TV or in Press Advertising for kids meals. Mostly its the latest movie like Rio, Up or a big one was Kung Fu Panda, not a clown in site.

I don't know about America? But certainly in Australia, Ronald is really only associated with the Charity work McDonald's do. Its a bit like shooting a dead horse really. Going after Ronald would be a waste of resources and really not the issue, they issue is kids and junk food advertising, McDonald's is not the only one who does it, there just the biggest. Its really a call to stop it no matter the face that presents it.

[May 19, 2011 03:50 AM "There is a saying that it takes a village to raise a child. Well as a society we are failing our children when we expose them to this kind of marketing and mental conditioning that says fast food is good for them."]

I agree with Sam to a point, however, as a village there is order of authority, the parents are the first port of call over there children, obviously if others feel they need to start campaigning and challenging things like advertising to children, in general parents mustn't be holding there own. However we do need people like this to keep corporations honest.

Everyone needs to put the effort in to get rid of the real issue, overweight children.

May 20, 2011 12:30 AM #

Sam United States says:

Note aldo that McDonalds refuses to report on its social impact on nutrition and kids. Instead we are expected to take at face value the ludicrous assumption that Ronald McDonald g
has nothing to do with marketing and McDonslds activities are a plus for our national health

Sure sign of a company refusing to face the truth. Which is precisely why regulators should not be asleep at the wheel here.

May 22, 2011 09:17 PM #

Mike United States says:

Last time I checked, young children didn't have the means of transportation or currency to get themselves to a restaurant and buy a meal.  Who does that for them? . . . oh that's right, their parents.

May 23, 2011 08:57 AM #

Sam United States says:

Well it is 2011, not 1811 or 1911. Most of us dont live in villages or even remote suburbs. Our kids dont walk 100 yards to the red school house. Nor is mother sitting at home 24 hours a day, perhaps with a brief ride in the minvan to pick up the kids before she goes back to knitting, baking and vacuuming.

Statistically speaking we are now living in tightly populated environments where parent work. They work long hours - America has the longest working hours of any OECD country. That's what it takes for the average American keep a job and pay their mortgage. Children commute to school by public transport, and parents do give them allowances. The kids participate in after school activities, weekend clubs and so on. All of this is reasonable. In fact it's basically necessary in the modern age - it's called ubanization.

What is not reasonable however, is allowing impressionable young children to be marketed to/recruited in the guise of "entertainment"....aka Ronald McDonald. That is direct neglet of our duty of care to these minors.

If we as a society would not allow local pedophiles or drug dealers or the local strip club to put on a clown suit and play-act out recruiting and marketing messages to little kids, then I'm not sure why we would allow a junk-food company to do it.

Of course there are those who believe there is no such thing as society - only markets. And of course customers, which must be recruited as early as possible, in order to maximize profit.

That is what fundamentally underlies this debate. Do we continue to allow outdated and abusive forms or marketing, or in the abscence of any modicum of self-restraint by companies, do we define our children - and their health - as worthy of protection from the market?

May 23, 2011 10:38 AM #

Comments are closed

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