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The Future Of Ronald McDonald, and Other Thoughts on Branding

We were blogging this week about the importance of branding in choosing a multi-unit franchise. Part in parcel of developing a brand identity is creating a living image of the franchise and few things embody this idea like Ronald McDonald.

Travel to any McDonald’s in the world and Ronald is there. He’s a simple, benevolent creation: a clown wearing the signature red and yellow colors of the Golden Arches. As such, he has a special appeal to children. But it appears that appeal is becoming controversial for some people.

It was fascinating to read about the debate that took place at a recent McDonald’s shareholders meeting in Oak Brook, Illinois. A consumer advocacy group called Corporate Accountability International attended the event and asked McDonald’s CEO Jim Skinner to retire Ronald McDonald forever. Their feeling is that Ronald, who has been around or 50 years, has become a “Joe Camel” type of advertising figure, existing for the sole purpose of advocating unhealthy eating to children.

Skinner profoundly disagreed with the group, describing Ronald as ‘force for good.’

“He communicates effectively with children and families around balanced, active lifestyles. He does not hawk food.”

It is not only food that Ronald McDonald is synonymous with. The Ronald McDonald House charities have been doing good around the world for a long time. Interestingly, the shareholders, the people whose opinion matters most to Skinner, applauded when he defended the legacy of Ronald McDonald.

It doesn’t seem that Ronald McDonald is being granted retirement. But you can certainly tell from this stand-off how contested brand image can become and how essential it is to choose the right one for your franchise.

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