McDonald’s, faced with a drop in profits, has sent in the clown.
The fast-food giant resurrected Ronald McDonald, sporting a new look sans the jumpsuit, on “a global mission to rally the public through inspiring events.” He’ll be active on social media—with his own hashtag, not account, on Twitter—in a bid to connect with a 21st century consumers: “Selfies … here I come!” the clown, who joined the company in 1963, was quoted as saying.
McDonald’s is doubling down on the clown in the wake of a series of wildly popular commercials for Taco Bell’s new breakfast menu by Oscar-winning filmmaker Errol Morris featuring testimonials from real men named “Ronald McDonald.” The ads have received millions of views on YouTube.
The New Yorker notes: “McDonald’s responded with a barrage of social-media barbs, including a Facebook photo of an enormous Ronald McDonald clown petting a Chihuahua with the caption, ‘Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.’”
Taco Bell’s spokesdog, Gidget, died in 2009, and indeed the life expectancy of any product mascot is short. For every Ronald McDonald, Tony the Tiger and Pillsbury Doughboy, the commercial landscape is littered with characters who failed in their bid for immortality.
Do you remember all of these?
Spuds MacKenzie (1987-89)
The party dog representative of Budweiser beer was a big success—too big, as parents and lawmakers claimed the popular Bull Terrier was meant to lure underage drinkers, prompting the beer giant to lock up the dog. The dog’s real name was Honey Tree Evil Eye, and died in 1993.
Burger King’s “King” (2004-11)
Arguably the creepiest of the fast food mascot’s, the King’s frozen-in-a-grin face was phased out in 2011. “We got rid of the creepy king character that tended to scare away women and children,” the company’s CFO said last year.
Taco Bell Chihuahua (1994-2000)
The dog that portrayed the Taco Bell Chihuahua may have died in 2009, but the commercial run for the wildly popular mascot ended in July 2000 after a 6% drop in sales and concerns in the Hispanic community that the dog played to a racial stereotype.
Part of the McDonaldland gang introduced in the early 1970s, the masked nemesis of Ronald McDonald and his purple pre-Barney friend were ditched in favor of making Ronald a solo act. Many of the original McDonaldland characters, like Mayor McCheese, went by the wayside after a successful lawsuit saying the characters were a ripoff of the early 1970s children’s show “H.R. Pufnstuf.”
Joe Camel (1987-97)
The most controversial product mascot of all time, Joe Camel was considered by anti-tobacco activists a Pied Piper leading children to smoke. Others complained about something they saw in his nose. RJ Nabisco shelved the animal amid public pressure in 1997.
KFC’s Colonel Sanders
Colonel Sanders is the rare example of a mascot that came from the actual creator of the product, Kentucky Fried Chicken. Although still part of the logo, the colonel’s use in commercials is gone. Like its rebranding to KFC, the company has been increasingly distancing itself from its Southern roots to appeal to a global audience. This psychedelic commercial from the 1960s was an early attempt by the fast-food maker to keep up with the times. (Be warned: It is the most disturbing thing you’ll see all day.)
Pizza Hut’s Pizza Head (1993-97)
A blatant rip-off of the Mr. Bill Show from “Saturday Night Live,” the commercial series had Pizza Head face his pizza-cutter enemy, Steve.
Dominos Pizza’s The Noid (1986-88)
The Noid, a weird character in a bunny suit whose aim was to stop Dominos Pizza from being delivered in 30 minutes or less, was on the airwaves in the mid-1980s, and later as part of a computer game. The Noid came back in 2011 for one week to celebrate his 25th anniversary with a Facebook game, “The Noid’s Super Pizza Shootout.”
Nabisco’s Thing (1996-97)
Do you remember this ad campaign—Nabisco’s CGI-attempt to anthropomorphize its label? Neither do I.
7-Up’s Cool Spot (1987-97)
A humanoid representation of the red dot in the 7-Up logo, Cool Spot lived on as a character in a popular series of video games.
Budweiser Frogs (1995-2000)
The three frogs “Bud,” “Weis” and “Er” were the breakaway advertising hits from the 1995 Super Bowl. Like Spuds and Joe Camel, the commercials were attacked as being aimed at kids. The director of the commercials, Gore Verbinski, went on to direct another franchise: “The Pirates of the Caribbean.”
Twinkie the Kid (1971-88; 1990-2011; 2013-present)
Like the perhaps-infinite expiration date of this cream-filled snack cake, Twinkie the Kid apparently can’t be killed, despite two attempts in the past to put him down. He caught the final bullet in 2011, but two years later was resurrected along with the snack cake.
Photo courtesy of McDonald’s.