Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Ronald McDonald gets a makeover. (But not enough of one.)

I understand, given their philanthropic investment in Ronald McDonald, that Mickey D’s is more or less stuck with a clown for a mascot.

So in that sense, I feel bad for the current crop of marketers and brandingistas who are stuck with a 50 year old character.

I wouldn’t want to be the one who has to balance the creepiest-of-creepy mascots with the hundreds of Ronald McDonald Houses that have been helping families with critically ill kids since the 1970’s.

Ronald McDonald House is a great brand.

Ronald McDonald himself (itself?)? Maybe not so much.

Much of my neagativity towards Ronald McD stems from my general antipathy, a lifelong fear and loathing of clowns. And some of it’s directed directly at Ronald McDonald, who, even by clown standards, is pretty darned loathsome.

But personal antipathy towards clowns aside, there’s no makeover -  short of removing the wig, the giant red shoes, and the macabre kabuki makeup – that’s going to help de-creep Ronald McDonald.

Yet there’s McDonald’s, proudly announcing that Ronald McDonald, “who represents the magic and happiness of the McDonald’s brand” has gotten the Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, the What Not To Wear treatment.

Ronald McDonald will be sporting a new wardrobe, which includes yellow cargo pants and a vest, accompanied by a red-and-white striped rugby shirt. His iconic big red shoes will remain the same. Reserved for special occasions, Ronald has a whimsical new red Ronald McDonaldblazer with the Golden Arches on the front pocket and his well-recognized signature on the back, and a special bowtie to complete the look.(Source: McDonald’s presser.)

Cargo pants and vest. Wow! Talk about hip and happenin’. And a rugby shirt. Kind of a non-trending trendoid look, but I suppose they didn’t want to pick a more ephemeral style, like camo or a hipster fedora.

Still, is there anyone out there who finds the new look much of an improvement overOld McDonald Old McDonald? At least Old McDonald was clearly an outlier. In real life, no kid would come across an actual person dressed like this. On the other hand, kids may actually know and love people who wear cargo pants, zippered vests, and rugby shirts. So they could mistake a genuinely dangerous creep for someone as benevolent – albeit creepy, if not dangerously so – as Ronald McDonald.

While McDonald’s apparently believes that clothes make the clown, they’re also trying to get with the scene:

For the first time, Ronald McDonald will take an active role on McDonald’s social media channels around the world and engage consumers using the #RonaldMcDonaldhashtag. 

I think I’ll stick with #IncludeMeOut.

But Ron-bo’s not going to be limiting his social media communications to 140 characters. It’s a visual world out there, and sometimes the burden of actually having to read 140 characters is just too darned much. So we’ll get to be seeing more of the new Big Mac:

Ronald McDonald can’t wait to connect with people through social media. “Selfies …here I come! It’s a big world and now, wherever I go and whatever I do...I’m ready to show how fun can make great things happen,” said Ronald McDonald.

Maybe if you’re a family with a kid in the hospital, and you’re staying in a Ronald McDonald House, having the eponymous clown take a selfie with you would actually put a smile on your face.

I certainly don’t begrudge anyone with a sick kid grabbing whatever scintilla of joy that they can. And maybe it’s because of the existence – and success, and good work – of all those Ronald McDonald Houses that McDonald’s has to double down on the brand, rather than jettison Ronald McDonald in favor of something that’s less horrifically creepy.

As Ronald begins his journey, he seeks to deliver on the mission: “Fun makes great things happen” - the idea that moments of fun and enjoyment bring out the simple pleasures in life and can lead to acts of goodness.

And I thought I’d written some lame-ass press releases over the years.

Maybe I’m just jaded because the simple pleasures in my life include never having to have any exposure to clowns in particular, and Ronald McDonald in general.

So, forget about “fun makes great things happen.” I feel really bad that McDonald’s wasn’t able to just retire the creepiest of creepy mascots. After all, they’ve got all those Ronald McDonald Houses out there… But does the face of Ronald McDonald House have to be a clown? Couldn’t it be a puppy, or a kitty cat, or an elephant, or a parrot?

Well, I guess a fast food joint wouldn’t want an animal – especially a dog – as part of their brand image.

So how about making Ronald McDonald a magician? Or an acrobat? Or a juggler?

God help me, I’m actually going to say I’d like him better if he looked like a traditional French mime, and that’s really going some.

McDonald’s SVP Dean Barreett assures us that “Ronald will continue to evolve to be modern and relevant.”

Modern? Relevant? I’ve got it: turn Ronald McDonald into a robot.

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