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.