March 30th, 2010
11:31 AM ET

Group tells Ronald McDonald to take a hike

By Madison Park
CNNhealth.com writer/producer

A corporate watchdog group that got rid of Joe Camel is after another icon - this time, its target is tall, red and happy.

Corporate Accountability International plans to host a retirement party for Ronald McDonald as it releases a report Wednesday that basically says,  "We’re not loving it. " The report calls for McDonald’s to stop using the iconic clown.

“For nearly 50 years, Ronald McDonald has hooked kids on unhealthy foods spurring a deadly epidemic of diet-related diseases,” said Deborah Lapidus, the senior organizer at Corporate Accountability International. “Ultimately the report makes the case that it’s time that McDonald’s stop directing fast food to kids.  Really, Ronald deserves a break and so do we.”

The group plans to hold events outside of McDonald's throughout the country and wants the fast food chain to stop using its corporate mascot.  The mascot makes children “vulnerable to manipulations to marketing” and turns them on to junk food at an age when childhood obesity rates  have soared, Lapidus said.

The group is employing the same strategy as it did to target the cigarette mascot in its “Send Joe Camel packing” campaign in the 1990s.

“A lot of our thinking is modeled on that campaign and success,” Lapidus said.  “We think of Ronald McDonald as a deep-fried Joe Camel for 21st century.”

McDonald’s does not appear to have plans to ditch the clown.  The company released a statement to CNN.com calling Ronald McDonald “a beloved brand ambassador for McDonald's” and described him as crucial to its charity efforts to help families of hospitalized children.

“Ronald also helps deliver messages to families on many important subjects such as safety, literacy, and the importance of physical activity and making balanced food choices. That's what Ronald McDonald is all about, which our customers know and appreciate,” according to the statement.

Lapidus said the fast food giant's message has  some “fundamental ironies.”

“McDonald’s charity does a lot of good and they do work to be commended,” she said.  “But there are serious question about the face of the charity that’s about kids getting better that also promotes unhealthy food to kids.  Could it not serve the same children without the cross promotion of burgers and fries which are affecting kids' health?”

Other McDonald’s characters, such as Hamburglar or Grimace (the purple triangular fellow) can rest easy.  Health advocates are not targeting them.

soundoff (1,361 Responses)
  1. Anne Gallagher

    They have it all wrong. They should keep the clown but get rid of the food.

    March 30, 2010 at 14:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Cyn

    Oh this is just ridiculous. So between the kids and their parents – it's the clown's fault???

    March 30, 2010 at 14:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. padrone

    It's not the clown that's making you fat, it's the fat that's making you fat.

    March 30, 2010 at 14:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Cyn

    Hamburgler is safe?? Doesn't he encourage kids to steal??? These people are so stupid, it's unbelievable they remember to inhale and exhale after they remember to get out of bed.

    March 30, 2010 at 14:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Paula

    At the very least, this attempt to retire Ronald McDonald is getting people thinking and talking about how bad most fast food is for everyone, especially children. If that is the only thing that comes of this campaign, they will have accomplished a great deal.

    Look in the shopping carts of people shopping at any supermarket and you'll see lots of junk foods piled high and little healty real food. Everyone wants to nuke their dinners, or pick up take out. How many people actually cook and eat a healthy dinner most nights? I personally know many women who don't even know how to cook, or follow simple recipies. Do families even sit down at the dinner table all at the same time anymore?

    As with the ecconomics, education, social manners, planning for the future and good health practices, parents are the key to their children becoming successful adults. It does make it a bit harder to teach children, when the parents don't practice what they preach.

    March 30, 2010 at 14:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Mike

    First they go after Ronald. Then its Jack from Jack in the Box. Oh, let's not forget Wendy. Next it will be Snap, Crackle, and Pop. And let's not forget the dancing Kiss'es. There are even more Icon's that I just don't have time to remember.
    Come on people. Get a life. America was never ment to be the Nanny State. I think that a lot of people out there would like it to be. First we get rid of all the trans fats, then it will be the french fries, then the burgers. Oh let's not forget the motorcycles, cars that can go over the speed limit. We have already tried to ban alcohol in this country and found out that that did nothing but make the criminal gangs wealthy. We are still suffering from the effects that that great experiment caused.

    March 30, 2010 at 14:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Yikers

    You all are missing the point.....who are these people to tell anyone what to do; We just keep losing more and more of our freedom. I personally don't need a babysitter watching what I do or do not do, and my children are my responsibility; I had them, I support them..... I want the gov and groups like this one to leave my family alone.

    March 30, 2010 at 14:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Kathy LeMay

    I see everyone's points and I know lots of parents who can only afford McDonald's. They value meal has really been pushed as enough food, calories and nutrition at the cheapest price possible. If you're on a limited income, this would present as a great choice.

    I for one applaud this organization for taking on an icon that is presented to the public as pro-children's health. I'm concerned that McDonald's sees children as a market and not our future.

    If there are McDonald's executives reading these entries, may I ask you a question: do you feed McDonald's food to your children for dinner? Do you buy the value meal instead of making home cooked meals? If so, then I applaud you because clearly you believe in your product. If not, then that gives consumers pause.

    March 30, 2010 at 14:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Rich

    When is the last time you saw an 8 year old driving a minivan with a Camel in his mouth bring his obese parents to a McDonald's? Get real America!

    March 30, 2010 at 14:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Nick

    I appreciate the comments here. Yes, parents need to take responsibility for their kids eating habits. Of course. Those calling for Ronald to retire share that sentiment. Let's not paint a crisis that will soon cause 1 in 3 children to become diabetic in their lifetime with such a narrow and naive brush.

    Children are not raised in a vacuum. Marketing doesn't happen just in environments parents can control. In many communities McDonald's-style food has muscled out healthier alternatives giving parents little choice. Don't tell me the corporation doesn't bare responsibility. By its own admission it's charities are a means of marketing and building affinity with parents who would otherwise shield their kids from such an unhealthy product.

    I'd plead with those whose knee-jerk is to castigate parents, leaving the multi-billion transnational corporation behind the transformation of our food system blameless to at least consider the bigger picture. Also, we must empower parents to make better choices and that starts with calling on corporations like McDonald's to stop complicating their job.

    March 30, 2010 at 14:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Barbra

    Well, we better say goodbye to The "Burger King" and to Wendy too!
    God forbid that people take responsibility for why their little fatties are the way the are. Limit the TV & computer/game time – Now that might help the issue...

    March 30, 2010 at 14:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Terp1985

    HOLD ON.

    McDonald's spends billions of dollars convincing kids to beg their parents to get a cheeseburger. Shoot, I remember doing it myself! Now, Ronald even goes to schools passing out gift certificates or teaches kids how to be "fit." Let's us people support moms and dads instead of a hamburger joint.

    March 30, 2010 at 14:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Ashley's on board

    I haven't heard anything from this group suggesting parents aren't the ones responsible for feeding their kids healthily. Can't you take personal responsibility and also object to marketing tactics that exploit children?

    March 30, 2010 at 14:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Hayden

    I agree, kids arent going to McDonalds by them selves. Parents are taking their kids to McDonalds and leting their kids eat fast food, and not healthy food. Sure the clown makes it loko fun and ok, but its the parents job to regulate what their kids eat. I mean whos in charge here the kids or the parents.

    March 30, 2010 at 14:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Corrine

    What's next, the Chickfila cow?

    March 30, 2010 at 14:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Rick Washington state

    Why don't they find real jobs a truly help improve society. Right now they are in the same league as PETA.

    March 30, 2010 at 14:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Jody

    Seriously? Seriously? This is absolute horsepucky. Give me a break. There are better things to go after. Next they'll go after Mickey Mouse because he encourages expensive vacations that parents go in debt to afford and has all those DVDs that children HAVE to have. Get real. Not only that, but I don't really remember Ronald Touting the food that much. He left that up to Hamburgler, the Fry Girls and Grimace, the worst offender of all because they usually used him to sell cookies and shakes.

    March 30, 2010 at 14:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Bill

    Yet another misguided attempt to forch behavior on pepole. Blame the parents that take their kids to McDonald's five times a week. They got rid of Joe Camel and what happened. Have there not been new smokers since he was banished? When will people start preaching personal accountability?

    March 30, 2010 at 14:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Dean

    Let's think about this seriously for a moment. How many kids flock to McDonald's because of the clown? How many flock to McDonald's because of the cheap toys in the happy meals? I have three kids. Never at any point have any of them said, "Daddy, can we go to the clown's burger hut?"

    Frankly, I find Ronald McDonald to be more creepy than alluring.

    March 30, 2010 at 14:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Network

    Keep the clown we love the clown!!! The clown loves us. The clown is good because good is the clown.

    March 30, 2010 at 15:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. JBuck98

    Ronald McDonald doesn't buy bad food for my kids...I do. So, what this tells me is that this group does not want to hold parents accountable for their actions. Has this group gone after Nintendo or Frito-Lay? What about couch makers for making our kids lazy? This is crazy!!!

    March 30, 2010 at 15:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. RSatteson

    Wow as normal....PARENTS failed to raise their kids and teach them moderation...PARENTS put work before their kids.....give them fries, hamburger, chicken wings....PARENTS paid for the foods, PARENTS are accountable!!!

    I am a PARENT of 2... my kids are NOT obese, my kids ate MC D once in a while.....I WORK and am a single mother, I made TIME for my kids and their well-being....a clown did not cause obesity, the laziness of parents did!!

    March 30, 2010 at 15:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. Kaiylan

    W.O.W. Ok, I get Joe Camel. A cartoon calls to kids and as soon as they are able to get it for themselves, they have the image of super cool Joe Camel in their heads and run to buy a pack, then are subsequently addicted.
    But Ronald McDonald? Really? I don't know of too many 5-8 year olds who are capable of taking themselves to McDonalds, buying a happy meal or even just a burger, and doing it often enough to be the sole cause of childhood obesity. And unlike Joe Camel, by the time they are old enough to do those things, the silly clown is not something they want to associate with.
    Any parent worth their salt should be able to resist the 5 year old temper tantrum when then want McDonalds (NOW!!). And they should be able to encourage them to exercize enough that a Happy Meal every once in a while isn't going to have a huge effect on their waistline.
    I agree with all the posters before me. Parents have the responsibility to make good choices for their kids. Parents are not attracted by an overly made up clown who sings and dances. Parents need to say no, and teach children to make healthy choices. We do not need another group telling someone how to run their home or their business. Period.

    March 30, 2010 at 15:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. AJ

    How about PARENT RESPONSIBILITY? The kids aren't driving themselves to McDonalds. Don't want your kid to eat a lot of McDonald's food? Don't take them there!

    March 30, 2010 at 15:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. Chris

    It takes a lot of money to develop a character for your business. I'm sorry, but the character, Ronald McDonald, does not only appeal to kids, but to adults as well. On a bad day, Ronald can put a smile on your face.

    For these people who wish to retire Ronald McDonald, go take a hike. It will give you exercise and fresh air, in other words, it's healthy, but leave Ronald alone. And just to let you know, I don't eat at McDonald's, but enjoy the Ronald commercials.

    March 30, 2010 at 15:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. Lori

    Now we are going to regulate the choices adults make for their own families. Where will it all stop and just how much do you want to regulate?

    March 30, 2010 at 15:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. Kristin

    Kudos to Corporate Accountability International for this brave and courageous campaign. I agree it is time to retire the clown and other marketing icons that are hooking our children on products from cradle to grave.

    Marketing icons have a profound impact on children, and Ronald McDonald is arguably the most effective marketing icon of all time. Until the age of about eight, children do not understand that marketing is an attempt to sell them a product, and one thirty-second
    commercial can influence the brand preferences of children as young as two.

    During the height of the Joe Camel ad campaign, ninety-one percent of six-year olds were able to match the infamous icon to the product it promoted – cigarettes. Similarly, a study of nearly 10,000 children showed that 100 percent of those in the U.S. recognized Ronald McDonald. Ronald McDonald’s branding is targeted directly to kids; even the most vigilant parents are at a disadvantage against the millions that McDonald’s spends to promote Ronald everywhere that
    kids are.

    No matter which way you spin it Ronald is the chief promoter of a brand that has hooked kids on unhealthy food, spurring an epidemic of diet-related diseases like diabetes.

    March 30, 2010 at 15:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. Mayor McCheese

    Myself and the Hamburgler can't believe this vile and despicable attempt to paint us in the same light as Joe Camel!

    We know Ronald McDonald Mr. Lapidus, and YOU SIR ARE NO RONALD MCDONALD!

    March 30, 2010 at 15:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. joe

    I wish these people would have different things in their lives to occupy their time. Viva Joe Camel!

    March 30, 2010 at 15:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. Ryan

    I don't, I think they are right! I mean, every time I drive by and see that clown, I have to get a cheeseburger. Get that clown!

    March 30, 2010 at 15:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. jmt1881

    Does this mean we have to get rid of the Pillsbury Doughboy, the Keebler Elves, and sweet, innocent Little Debbie? People/parents need to take responsibility for their own actions. That’s it.

    March 30, 2010 at 15:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. Robert

    You gotta be kidding. Parents are responsible for what kids eat not the clown. Next I guess you want McDonalds to stop supporting Ronald McDonald House Charities. He's a clown who is there to entertain kids, so leave the clown alone. My Kids ate McDonald and they all are doing quite well, and so are my grandkids.

    March 30, 2010 at 15:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. Allen

    In response to all these comments saying that it is the fault of parents, most parents I know are both full time working parents – some working two jobs just to make ends meet, who struggle to even find time to spend with their kids, let alone provide them with sound education on healthy food choices.

    They do their very best to provide their children with healthy food choices, but money, time and access are all big factors. And, then you add on top of that a multi-billion dollar company like McDonald's, who spends billions of dollars each year just on advertising their products.

    This is advertising from the most sophisticated public relations firms and other advertising agencies in the world, literally using child psychology and neurology to figure out how to target youth at an early age to build brand loyalty, such that kids at an early age recognize the Golden Arches and Ronald before other cultural icons.

    Saying that parents should be able to combat that type of advertising and marketing is like saying your local junior high varsity basketball team should be able to defeat Duke or Butler on a daily basis; no matter how heroic that junior team might be, they are simply outgunned and out funded.

    Pushing fast food companies to stop targeting kids with their advertising won't let parents off the hook; they'll still have to make sure they are making responsible choices for their kids and teaching them good habits. But, it will help level the playing field for those parents. Seems like the fair thing to do for the parents I know.

    March 30, 2010 at 15:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. Kevin P

    Getting rid of Ronald is not going to make the food any healthier...

    Also; regardless of clowns and what-not... If you're too dumb to know that giving hamburgers and fries to your kids all the time is not healthy, maybe you should not have had children. (who also stand a chance of subsequently being dumb and/or possibly fat.)

    Yeah my kids love Ronald McCdonald, and they love jumping around the playgrounds the nicer locations have. But there's no way in HECK I'm letting my kids eat that stuff all the time.

    You can't feed your kids fatty/greasy food and then say "Oh it's the clowns fault! Not mine!"

    This is almost as absurd as when PETA made a "statement of concern" because Obama swatted a fly in an interview....

    March 30, 2010 at 15:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. mjs18331

    I agree that parents are responsible for little kids' diets, but what about kids who are a little older? The 10- to 14-year-old segment (and up) has more choice about what they eat. That said, I don't think a clown has a lot of influence on those kids - for them, it's all about lots of fries for not a lot of money ... and being cool, of course.

    March 30, 2010 at 15:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. Kyra

    How can we blame parents when this corporation spends billions, literally, billions of dollars on marketing to kids that is aimed to bypass parents? McDonald's even sites its restaurants near schools, kids save their lunch money and visit the Golden Arches after class, something their parents have NO control over. Obesity rates have triples, and diet-related disease has become an epidemic. Ronald McDonald promotes food that is unhealthy, and that makes kids sick! Considering that Ronald is more identifiable than Santa Clause, and he pushes unhealthy food to kids, making them sick, its time to retire the clown.

    March 30, 2010 at 15:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. Abdal-Latif

    McDonald's is pure evil. They know a lot about child development–they have experts working for them who are very well-informed about sensitive periods for acquisition of food preferences. They are starting these poor children on the road to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, depression, you name it. And when I say "poor" I mean it–McD's is the cheapest and most readily-available food for poor families that are not well-integrated, where the mom has to work at multiple jobs and has no time to cook. Often McD is the only place in a poor neighborhood where kids can play safely. That is no accident–all part of the long-term corporate strategy. Don't just ditch "Ronald McDonald"–ditch this poisonous "restaurant" entirely.

    March 30, 2010 at 15:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. toots

    Well, there goes Tony the Tiger, the little Leprechaun guy, Toucan Sam, Chuck E. Cheese. Give me a break, do something worthwhile like take your obese children out to the park. This group is so worried about children being unhealthy they don't even realize they're wasting their time. Ronald McDonald is not making our kids eat McDonalds, they have to get a ride from someone, maybe we should tell THEM to get their boots on and take a hike themselves.

    March 30, 2010 at 15:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  39. Kristy

    Let's be honest...kids don't buy their own food. Their parents do. Ronald McDonald may make the kids think about asking for a cheeseburger, but the children do not (and cannot) drive themselves to the nearest Mickey-D's and pay for the greasy mess that comes wrapped in paper. I don't think this is about kids being influenced by Ronald, but about parents who fail to make good decisions about what they let their kids eat. I don't believe that eating a Happy meal every so often is going to make a kid obese, but always giving them that kind of junk certainly will. I don't really like McDonald's, but I hate it when companies get blamed for all of our kids' problems when we forget to talk about some of the most important people in this issue - the parents. Mom and Dad need to step up and limit their kids' McDonald's in-take, be parents and learn to say "no" and stick to their guns instead of giving in.

    March 30, 2010 at 15:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  40. flossmore

    Joe Camel...yeah, but not the clown. Ron doesn't make kids eat this crap....mommy does! Wake up.

    March 30, 2010 at 15:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  41. Ray

    Having been in the food business for over 40 years, and being around when McDonald's counted their burgers on their signs by the "millions sold", we need to be aware of the changes made by the corporation over the years. I don't believe I've seen any mention of the Ronald McDonald houses that provide free places to stay near major hospitals for parents and families. Amazing, let's just focus on the clown !

    March 30, 2010 at 15:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  42. Yo Momma aka Big Government

    This is awesome. Soon you will be unable to think for yourself. The government will control all advertising, menu items, and anything else that might require you to use more than two brain cells or three major muscle groups at any one time.

    March 30, 2010 at 15:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  43. Roadlk

    I don't think Ronald McDonald has ever made a child eat at the restaurant. In fact, most kids I know are creeped out by clowns. I'll echo what was said below, it's the parent's responsibility to introduce their children to health eating.

    March 30, 2010 at 15:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  44. Douglas

    I think this is a great idea. McDonald's uses Ronald McDonald to market to kids and get them hooked on fast food.

    I was shocked when I realized that McDonald's is building their restaurants near schools so they could get the money that I give to my kids for school lunch. It is time for McDonald's to retire Ronald and Mayor McCheese.

    March 30, 2010 at 15:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  45. adikos

    I can see the camel joe issue, but this is really out of line. I cant even recall seeing a recent McDonalds commercial that even featured the clown, let alone featured him eating their food. This group could clearly think of something better to waste their time on?

    Is the King and Colonel next?

    March 30, 2010 at 15:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  46. 4threv

    I suspect that research would show that Corporate Accountability International supported Obama and the rest of the nanny state liberals. BTW, don't fire back at me without doing the research and proving me wrong!!

    March 30, 2010 at 16:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  47. Elisabeth

    I have to agree with what most everyone has said. As a parent of three, I don't take them to McD for EVERY meal. Only every once in a while. Plus, there are healthier options for the kids... apple slices instead of fries. Apple juice or milk instead of soda. Yeah, the burgers and nuggets have grease too, but that's why it is a treat, not an every day thing. Parents are the one's responsible for what their kids eat. Not some silly looking clown.

    March 30, 2010 at 16:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  48. joe

    I agree, its time to move on. We need to stop marketing unhealthy food to our children. I grew up on Ronald and McDonalds and I'm sure I will pay for it.

    March 30, 2010 at 16:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  49. dpm1228

    Give me a break! A clown has that much influance that people can't determine that if they eat at McD's, it may be bad for their health?The mentality of this country never stops amazing me!

    March 30, 2010 at 16:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  50. Janus

    My interpretation is that this is simply pressure group tactics; why?...because we can. They inject their own perspective into situations, and manipulate media and statements to their own self-important ends.

    As an adult, I make decisions for both myself and my children, as is appropriate. And, I'm quite capable of critical evaluations. I don't need a pressure group to decide things in my own interest.

    There is no real difference between these groups, and the corporations they assail.

    March 30, 2010 at 16:03 | Report abuse | Reply
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