The McDonald's clown is laying low due to 'the current climate around clown sightings.' Now if only the hamburger huckster would retire for good.
Clowns are having their moment … and not in a juggling-and-pony-rides kind of way. We are in the midst of a creepy clown epidemic in which both creeps and wanna-be-creepy pranksters are donning the face paint and scaring the bejesus out of kids and grown-ups alike.
So what to do when your mascot happens to be … a clown? And the most famous clown on the planet, no less? This is the dilemma that McDonald’s is facing, and in light of the clown outbreak, the fast-food company is putting a lid on the hamburger hawker’s public appearances until further notice.
"McDonald's and franchisees in the local markets are mindful of the current climate around clown sightings in communities and as such are being thoughtful in respect to Ronald McDonald's participation in community events for the time being," writes McDonald's spokesperon Terri Hickey in an emailed statement to NBC News.
"Ronald McDonald, the Hamburger-Happy Clown" made his debut in 1963 and has been enticing children to harangue their parents for fatty fast food ever since. McDonald’s was smart to catch a ride on the immense popularity of Bozo the Clown, and even tapped the star of Bozo, Willard Scott, to assume the role of Ronald.
Fast-forward half a century and "the smile known around the world," Ronald McDonald, is second only to Santa Claus in terms of recognition. By some accounts, 96 percent of all schoolchildren in the United States recognize the yellow-gloved redhead.
Meanwhile, we’re facing a tremendous health crisis and childhood obesity is off the charts. Less than 1 percent of kids’ meals combinations at restaurants meet nutrition standards recommended by experts, says a report from Yale University. And we’ve got clowns pushing junk food on kids. According to a 2010 report from Corporate Accountability International (CAI):
McDonald's spends more than a billion dollars each year on marketing in the U.S. alone. That’s more than any other fast food chain, Coca-Cola, and leading junk food manufacturers like Kellogg’s and General Mills. Much of it is spent advertising directly to children. Kids under twelve command up to $50 billion in direct purchasing power, and influence $670 billion in family purchases.
Of Ronald McDonald, CAI's Deborah Lapidus says: “This clown is no friend to our children or their health. No icon has ever been more effective in hooking kids on a harmful product. Kids have become more obese and less healthy on his watch. He’s a deep-fried Joe Camel for the 21st Century. He deserves a break, and so do our kids.”
For anyone who wants to accuse me of being a clown curmudgeon, I promise you I’m not alone. According to a CAI poll, more than half the people who have a positive association with Ronald McDonald say they favor “stopping corporations from using cartoons and other children’s characters to sell harmful products to children” and even among those with a favorable impression of Ronald McDonald, 46 percent support retiring him.
In 2014 McDonald’s gave their clown a makeover and announced that rather than going gently into that good night, he would be in new commercials and enjoy an increased presence on social media. While the clown hysteria enveloping the country is awful – seriously, people have enough to worry about without having to wonder if a creepy clown is lurking outside the bedroom window – if there’s a bright side, maybe it’s that Ronald McDonald is being forced to take some mandatory vacation.