• Like Joe, the smoking camel, Ronald McDonald’s time is up. This is one clown we can do without. (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
Comment: The world is obsessed with creepy clowns but there is a bigger clowning threat to our communities and he’s been luring children for decades. It’s time for Ronald McDonald to hang up his boots.
By
Jill Stark

20 Oct 2016 - 2:28 PM  UPDATED 20 Oct 2016 - 3:24 PM

It’s official. The world’s most famous clown has been put out to pasture.

As the creepy clown craze sweeps the globe, McDonalds last week announced that in light of the “current climate” they were being “thoughtful in respect to Ronald McDonald’s participation in community events”.

Ronald and his goofy red shoes are in semi-retirement.

It’s a move that public health officials have dreamed of for decades.

While media reports focus on scary tales of a clowning crime wave, arguably the garish Maccas mascot is more of a menace.

The clown’s rap sheet is extensive. Wherever there are children, Ronald is there.

At a time when obesity has become a global epidemic – crippling health systems with the burden of escalating chronic disease - insidious marketing of junk food to kids has played a major role.

And Ronald McDonald – a figure who the fast food chain boasts has recognition rates among children second only to Santa Claus – is the master of the practice.

The clown’s rap sheet is extensive. Wherever there are children, Ronald is there.

When he first burst onto the scene in 1963 he was up front. He told kids in TV ads: “I know we’re going to be friends too cause I like to do everything boys and girls like to do: especially when it comes to eating those delicious McDonald’s hamburgers.”

But since the PR disasters of documentaries like Fast Food Nation and Supersize Me the fast food world has had to clean up its act, forcing Ronald McDonald to transition from “chief happiness officer” to “ambassador for a balanced, active lifestyle”.

So now we see the hamburger spruiker passing himself off as a fitness guru, offering schools $1000 a pop to hear him dispense advice on healthy eating and exercise.

Through programs like the “McSpellit Club”, the ubiquitous clown has rewarded children with free burgers and chicken nuggets for meeting educational goals.

He has also offered “Get Moving with Ronald” school assemblies, a partnership with Coca-Cola.

And then there was the McDonald’s Champion Kids Contest that picked 10 children to go to the 2012 London Olympics, sending Ronald to deliver the news to winners. All they had to do was promote the fast food company through photos and videos on the company’s website.

But what’s the big deal? At least he’s encouraging kids to be involved in sport, get active and stay in school, right? And there’s all that great work he does with sick children through his global network of Ronald McDonald Houses. A round of applause for the big fella in the baggy pants!

But Ronald McDonald is not a fitness guru. He is not an educator. And he is certainly not a doctor. He has no social conscience or altruistic motivations. He is the cartoonish face of a global empire that, like all corporations, has profit as its number one driver. Everything else is a branding exercise to drive that profit.

Despite all the talk of healthy alternatives the money is still in junk food. While the burger chain does not disclose what percentage of sales come from its lighter range, it concedes it is not a major source of revenue. Because who goes to Maccas for a salad?

Ronald McDonald is not a fitness guru. He is not an educator. And he is certainly not a doctor...He is the cartoonish face of a global empire that, like all corporations, has profit as its number one driver. 

As long as that is the case, fast food chains will continue to target children (although they insist they don’t) through social media, celebrity endorsements from their favourite sports stars, games, and with recognisable child-friendly figures like Ronald McDonald. It is part of a cradle-to-grave strategy to forge brand loyalty to a product that we know is unhealthy, addictive and can make people sick.

Parental responsibility is a noble concept but it is hard for parents to say no when a global juggernaut is constantly bombarding their children with junk food advertising.

In its 2010 report, Corporate Accountability International – a consortium of health professionals, parents and concerned citizens - likened Ronald McDonald to Joe Camel, the smoking cartoon camel mascot of Camel cigarettes, which critics claimed was a deliberate ploy to lure minors. Internal documents from the tobacco giant later bore this out.

Like Joe, the smoking camel, Ronald McDonald’s time is up. This is one clown we can do without.

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