McDonald's Fights For Relevance With Ronald McDonald Makeover

McDonald’s, the perennial emblem of global fast food giants, has come to a crossroads. After decades of dominating the industry, the brand has found itself surrounded by increasingly threatening competitors that are eating away at its market share.

While McDonald’s has blamed its lackluster first-quarter sales on external factors like brutal winter weather, it would be naïve to think that the successful marketing campaigns of other fast food chains haven’t had their effect.

In January, Chipotle reinforced its reputation as a provider of healthier fast food with the launch of “Farmed and Dangerous,” a Web series that satirizes Big Agriculture’s petroleum dependence and the often-dubious sources of fast food ingredients.

In April, Taco Bell released its first ever breakfast menu along with two campaigns (“Get With The Times” and “Ronald McDonald,” which garnered more than 6 million views) that aimed to paint McDonald’s as out of touch and passé.



And most recently, Burger King brought back a more assertive version of its Subservient Chicken to promote the launch of its Chicken Big King sandwich, a chicken-filled version of the brand’s popular Big King (which bears a striking similarity to the McDonald’s Big Mac). That campaign has generated more than 6.4  million views in a week.

McDonald’s is facing an all-out assault on everything from its breakfasts to its burgers. And it’s within this cutthroat environment that McDonald’s is trying to breath new life into its deflated brand image.

Last week, Ronald McDonald got a 21st-century makeover. He ditched his yellow jumpsuit in favor of yellow cargo pants, a matching vest, and a baggy red blazer for special occasions. His iconic red shoes remain the same, though.

In addition to his 2014-ready apparel, America’s most famous clown is taking to social media for the first time, joining the Twitterverse. Though he doesn’t have a handle of his own, Ronald will post photos and videos of his adventures with the hashtag #RonaldMcDonald. “Selfies…here I come!” he said in the brand’s press release.

While the makeover was reportedly two years in the making, its release comes at a time when the brand needs to re-cast itself as more than the old standard. But has updating the iconic mascot and introducing him to social media had the effect the brand was hoping for? So far, it seems not.

Although there was some positive response, the vast majority of media coverage reflects a lack of enthusiasm for the change. The general consensus is that Ronald doesn’t look “hip.” Instead, many think he looks “creepy” and “terrifying.” #NotLovinIt was even trending on Twitter.

But don’t count on McDonald’s reverting to Ronald’s old look just yet. Mascot makeovers are rarely popular when first unveiled. From Mr. Peanut and Chester Cheetah, most brands face some initial backlash over their mascot makeovers before the public grows accustomed to them.

So while currently deemed a flop, Ronald’s makeover may yet gain widespread acceptance. But even if consumers tolerate the clown’s new look, will it be enough to stave off competitors and help McDonald’s maintain its position within the industry? Which leads to the million dollar question: In an ever-more-crowded arena, can the Golden Arches remain the golden standard?
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2 comments about "McDonald's Fights For Relevance With Ronald McDonald Makeover".
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  1. Chuck Lantz from, network, May 7, 2014 at 3:44 p.m.

    No mention of the popular documentary that showed how a steady diet of Golden Arches fare will eventually kill you? Even though it's a few years old, the impact still resonates.

  2. Pete Austin from Fresh Relevance, May 8, 2014 at 6:12 a.m.

    How can mediapost properly discuss a makeover without links to pictures? Sigh. At least it's easily remedied - see here:

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