McDonald’s Without Ronald

Discussion
Mar 03, 2011
George Anderson

McDonald’s is trying to act all mature as it goes for a
more upscale and adult shopper. So, where does that leave an iconic clown closing
in on 50? If you’re Ronald McDonald, it leaves you pretty much on the side
acting as a brand ambassador for the company’s good deeds, but not very involved
in the marketing of the brand.

Bob Dorfman, the executive creative director
at Baker Street Advertising, told Bloomberg
News
, "He kind of represents the old McDonald’s, with the
high-fat content foods that are kind of falling out of favor. It’s
clear that McDonald’s is advertising coffee, they’re not advertising
burgers."

"They’re just headed in a different direction," Jack Russo,
an analyst at Edward Jones & Co., told the news service. "A lot of
people have grown tired of fries and burgers."

The new McDonald’s sells
fruit smoothies, caramel mocha and other coffee drinks in restaurants with
free WiFi and comfortable, padded seats, not the hard, yellow versions associated
with the old Mickey D’s.

"They’re trying to get a Starbucks feel," Joel Cohen, president
of the Cohen Restaurant Marketing Group, told Bloomberg. "You’ll
see the greens and the browns, those nice earthy tones."

While McDonald’s
has reduced the role of Ronald, rival Burger King continues to put its "King" character
front and center. Part of that, according to experts, is that Burger King’s "creepy" mascot
is presented to appeal to adults and not kids.

Jim Hardison, the creative director
at Character LLC, told Bloomberg, "They
embrace that creepiness on purpose … their character couldn’t be confused
with a children’s icon."

Discussion Questions: Is the “new” McDonald’s headed in the right marketing direction? What about Burger King?

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13 Comments on "McDonald’s Without Ronald"


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Max Goldberg
Guest
10 years 2 months ago

Almost any other chain would give their all to sell half the burgers and fries that McDonald’s sells. McDonald’s has not turned its back on the core burger, fries and a Coke; they are simply responding to consumer trends and broadening its menu. McD has always tested new concepts on its menus and in its restaurant design. This ability to change is one of the company’s hallmarks of success. Look for it to continue.

Nikki Baird
Guest
Nikki Baird
10 years 2 months ago
I remember reading once in a marketing book about positioning against the competition, where they used McDonald’s and BK as the examples. At the time, McD’s was kicking the snot out of BK and the book argued that BK was making a mistake in trying to position where McD’s was strong–in the kiddie market. The authors said that BK should be positioning as “Where you go when you grow up”–putting a stake in the ground around the big-kid side of BK and minimizing the little kid aspects. I wish I remembered the name of the book, it’s been a long time. But I’ve always watched McD/BK/Starbucks with an eye towards that long-ago analysis. Now it seems that the roles have reversed. BK and Starbucks have laid claim to grownup positioning, and McD’s wants in. Where does that leave moms who want a place to let their kids loose at lunch time? Well, as long as the play place is still there, and well-maintained, and the kid lunch options are cheap and relatively healthy, having a… Read more »
Gene Hoffman
Guest
Gene Hoffman
10 years 2 months ago

McDonald’s markets to expand its total audience in order to continually increase its sales. In doing that there still remains a basic place for the devotees of the Golden Arch and Ronald as it reaches out to an older audience with fruit smoothies, specialty coffees, salads, breakfasts and adult reading spaces: all good marketing moves.

While the public maybe a little tired of burgers and fries they haven’t forsaken them. Thus, McDonald’s new “balanced” marketing direction makes sense today. As for the Burger King character I find him weird and a little stupid.

Dick Seesel
Guest
10 years 2 months ago

McDonald’s is and always has been the category leader. As such, its branding needs to have much broader appeal than chains like Burger King. (BK, in contrast, stays focused on its core consumer–which appear to be younger males–instead of successfully widening its target.) McDonald’s is also paying attention to the graying baby boomer who grew up on fast food but is looking for healthier or more “aspirational” menu offerings. So it’s probably smart to move Ronald to a secondary role as part of a comprehensive strategy.

Gregory Belkin
Guest
Gregory Belkin
10 years 2 months ago

McDonald’s has a lock on the fast-food “burger-and-fries” mentality pervasive here in the US, and will continue to do so. I don’t think they need to worry about that core audience–their name brand recognition alone is just as intense as it was 20 or so years ago in that demographic.

On the flip side, I do think McDonald’s has a way to go to be associated in the Starbucks category. It has made inroads, but still has a ways to go.

Kevin Price
Guest
Kevin Price
10 years 2 months ago

Perhaps everyone here is simply over-thinking this move by McDonald’s.

After decades of collecting donations at the front counter, I suspect Ronald’s house is already at least as large as the Playboy mansion. After all, how big of a house does this clown really need?

Kai Clarke
Guest
10 years 2 months ago

Hooray for McD’s! They are finally evolving into a full branded restaurant. Adults do represent the growing segment that McD’s has missed for many years and a clown is not needed to appeal to this segment. Certainly moving with the needs of today, including a more comfortable atmosphere, seats, expanded menu, and a base appeal that is technology and modern-day focused.

Carol Spieckerman
Guest
10 years 2 months ago

McDonald’s isn’t just a fast feeder, it is a global brand. As such, they have to ensure that the brand transcends culture, location and, with a 70% average employee turnover, people. The far-reaching brand architecture project that led up to McDonald’s more streamlined and consistent brand messaging (centered around “Simple, easy, enjoyment”) leaves little room for the iconic clown. Mc Donald’s view is that the new less is more approach shows more “confidence.” Looking at the results, I couldn’t agree more.

Cathy Hotka
Guest
10 years 2 months ago

What? No more Hamburglar?

Nikki’s right. McD’s can successfully compete for the adult market as long as they can also play well for children. And the adult market is growing; a recent visit to McDonald’s at 4:00 in the afternoon revealed many tables of high school students eating snacks, drinking giant Cokes, and using WiFi while comparing notes on homework. They were definitely not consuming Happy Meals. It’s “evolve or die” in retail, and McDonald’s has gotten the message.

Mark Burr
Guest
10 years 2 months ago

If Ronald’s ‘face’ would have simply diminished in presence without calling it out, I doubt it would have been noticed. It’s a very small part of their ‘face’ today.

As for BK? The “King” is just a total turn off. I just don’t get it.

Jonathan Marek
Guest
10 years 2 months ago

Isn’t this actually old news by now? McDonald’s has long been moving away from the Ronald McDonald image.

It’s actually iconic of a broader switch towards blurring childhood and adulthood. Think of the popularity of Baby Gap, where earth tones, not primary colors are de rigeur for kid’s clothes. McDonald’s earth tone designs may make them more adult-relevant, but those same designs don’t make Mickey D’s any less kid-relevant these days. (Of course, the blurring is happening the other way too–think of all the four-star restaurants serving fancy smores and root beer floats!)

Ultimately, my kids still beg me to stop at every McDonald’s we pass…for the fries, not for the clown.

Ed Rosenbaum
Guest
10 years 2 months ago

I had the good fortune to meet one of the original Ronald McDonald’s. It was a nice experience. He owned a winery in the Napa Valley area at the time. But everything and everyone has it’s “15 minutes of fame.” And we move forward to the next part of our lives. I doubt we will be saying goodbye to Ronald. McDonald’s has too much invested in the Ronald McDonald homes away from home for families of hospitalized children.

As for Burger King, I am an adult (in years) although some might disagree. The king character turns me away from ever wanting to eat at a Burger King.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest
10 years 2 months ago

RM has been on part-time hours for quite some time, so it isn’t much surprise that he’ll be pushing up the numbers of our jobless recovery; and I suppose I should feel a bit of joy, as I never really liked the character much (thinking him cloying). But I don’t. I feel a bit of sadness. Maybe it’s empathy–I too am “closing in on 50,” screaming and kicking…leaving scuff marks on the floor–or maybe it’s the loss of yet another reminder of a now gone innocent age when every little boy was named Tommy and a burger, fries and shake seemed like a natural pairing. Now he’s named Thomas something-or-other IV and his parents have retained counsel to sue MickeyD’s because their not-so-little boy can barely squeeze thru the SUV door. Progress?

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