What Happened to McDonald’s Clown Mascot Ronald McDonald?

by Piya Sengupta1 year ago
Picture What Happened to McDonald’s Clown Mascot Ronald McDonald?

Remember Ronald McDonald? You would think that creepy clown rampages and murderous clowns in 2016 would be enough to push McDonald’s clown mascot into oblivion. But truth be told, the beginning of the end of Mr. Ronald McDonald started much earlier than that. The reigning clown who once lived in the heart of every kid in America has made a slow exit through the back door of his fast-food joint, swept away by the winds of change in the American culture. What happened to McDonald’s Clown mascot, Ronald McDonald? What is the story behind the now-lost clown of our favorite burger joint?

The history behind the McDonald’s clown mascot, Ronald McDonald

Bozo the Clown
Bozo the Clown from Bozo’s Circus. Image credit: WGN-TV via Wikimedia

The idea behind Ronald McDonald came from Bozo, the iconic clown that the whole of America loved. It started out as a simple advertisement to bring kids to the McDonald’s outlet in Washington, D.C. It became a huge success. Kids, captivated by hamburgers, fries, and milkshakes, dragged their parents to the restaurant. In Washington D.C., Bozo was played by Willard Scott – who got hired to star in a McDonald’s commercial as the first Ronald McDonald (he named him) to sell hamburgers in the Washington D.C outlet. Immediately, a star was born.

Scott did three commercials with Mcdonald’s, with a cardboard tray for a hat and a paper cup over his nose. Though funny, it was not exactly the look that defined long-time success from a marketing point of view. Later, when Ronald went national, Scott was dropped, and McDonald’s hired Ringling Brothers clown Michael Polakovs, better known as “Coco the Clown,” to give Ronald the much-needed makeover. Soon, the clown with red hair and red and yellow striped overalls became wildly popular across the country. McDonald’s then hired Bev Bergeron as Ronald, who had a great history as an entertainer, and Ronald McDonald became instantly famous, just like his vanilla milkshakes.


Though many actors have played or portrayed Ronald over the years, McDonald’s continues to claim that he is real, and there is only one Ronald. In fact, publicly, McDonald’s has never admitted to more than nine people playing Ronald. If someone asked how he made appearances in more than three places simultaneously, the reply would be, “If I told you all my secrets, they wouldn’t be secrets anymore. Let’s just say that between you, me, and Santa, it’s magic.”

Ronald McDonald became a famous household name by the 1980s.

McDonald ads
McDonald’s ads from the 1970s.

The mid-1960s witnessed the golden era of the fast-food joint. Ronald starred in all the commercials, bringing a massive footfall to all the McDonald’s joints across the country. In the ’70s, he even starred in his own comic book, in the fictional McDonaldland, chasing away hamburglers and tackling the soda-stealing Grimace, along with his friends, the Mayor McCheese, and Officer BigMac. McDonaldland became a domestic craze, and Ronald became a household name, steadily gaining popularity. In the 1980s. No other competitor could beat the invincible McDonald’s. Ronald was in commercials, TV shows, cartoons, and video games, and even starred in a feature film called Mac and Me. In one word, he was “unstoppable”!

McDonald's character
McDonald’s character. Image credit: McDonald’s

The rise of the McDonald’s empire with Ronald McDonald reached its height in the 1980s with the introduction of the Happy Meal. It was less about the food and more about the free toy inside. Ronald-based toys and masks were already in circulation. Ronald would introduce the toys that were to be released next with the happy meals. Kids queued up outside McDonald’s joints to grab their toys. These toys tripled sales in no time, ensuring multiple visits by kids to complete their toy collection. Ronald was and still continues to be the face of Ronald McDonald House Charities UK, whose mission is to keep families close together.

McDonald's restaurant in Beijing
McDonald’s restaurant in Beijing (the 1990s). Image credit: Joseph Sohm / Shutterstock.com

Ronald basked in the glory of his success as a mascot. In the ’90s, Ronald led the success march as Mcdonald’s opened in Asian countries, as well as ex-Soviet countries. People lined up in unbelievable numbers for hours to eat at a McDonald’s. Soon, every kid in every country knew who Ronald was. So then, why did he disappear? what happened to McDonald’s clown mascot, Ronald McDonald?


Bad publicity started to ruin the once invincible Ronald McDonald.

Kid eating at McDonald's
Image credit: Bilanol/shutterstock.com

McDonald’s rise to fame continued through the ’80s, when “fast, convenient, and more” was the mantra. But the ’90s brought about a change in the mindset of the fast-food-heavy population. Child obesity grew, and people soon realized the connection between fast food, sickness, and heart disease. Doctors protested against McDonald’s for marketing unhealthy food to kids. Suddenly Ronald, from being the face that represents fun, laughter, and good times, became a burger salesman playing a major role in the childhood obesity epidemic.

McDonald’s soon started to suffer losses and had to close down almost 200 restaurants due to underperformance. Ronald was also compared to old “Joe Camel” cigarette ads, where the use of a cartoon mammal lured teens to smoke, creating a huge public backlash. McDonald’s came under the watchful eye of Corporate Accountability International for marketing to the kids an unhealthy way of life. Ronald was no longer the mascot everyone loved. The magic of McDonaldland became history, and its inhabitants faded, to be never seen again.


McDonald’s rebranded the fast-food joint as more health-friendly to save its reputation.

McDonald's slogan
McDonald’s slogan. Image credit: Tooykrub/shutterstock.com

After facing the public backlash against fast food, McDonald’s attempted to re-launch the brand, this time keeping in mind the nuances of the new era, as well as targeting adults. The interiors were redesigned to look more modern with less bright colors. The menu now had a chicken salad (though people hardly ordered it). Their tagline was changed to “I’m lovin’ it.”

It worked. Everyone did love it. It captured the spirit of the new age. But with these changes, the need for a red-haired clown to market the newly developed brand also became almost zero. Real mascots were used, and they were more relatable. And so, the clown was seen less and less and became more like a symbolic mascot. McDonald’s also signed a deal with Disney to promote their movies, and it worked like a charm. There was no place for a boisterous, red-haired clown in the new age of health-aware, identity consumers. The taste for such vibrancy was gone.

Then came 2016. And the reputation of clowns changed forever.


The scary clown rampage in 2016 tarnished the image of a clown forever.

2016 clown sightings
Ronald McDonald(left) and evil clown (right). Image credit: s_bukley/shutterstock.com

In 2016, a string of bizarre incidents made clowns stuff of nightmares. People dressed as clowns began to scare and attack the public in multiple incidents spread over U.S and U.K. The clown scare that started as a terrifying hoax quickly turned serious and pulled America out of its safety net. Creepy clowns were lurking in people’s backyards, sneaking around schools, attacking cars, and killer clowns chased down people and motorists with knives. It seemed almost that the world had lost its mind. Target, Walmart, and other supermarkets pulled clown costumes off their shelves. There was a clown panic that swept America.

So, naturally, to not tarnish their image any further, Mcdonald’s decided to give Ronald a break once and for all. They did not want him pulled into the same team as these creeper clowns. Officially, post the clown apocalypse, Ronald, the happy clown, slowly began to fade out from the scene. Though he sometimes appears on social media and in live events, Ronald is no longer the face of the brand. The official word from McDonald’s is that Ronald is working on some stuff. But we all know that clowns are no longer the funny men with red noses that make kids laugh. The kids have moved on, and the clowns with their hyperbolic fun and frolic remain a thing of the past.

Ronald McDonald mascot
Image credit: 1000 Words/shutterstock.com

R.I.P Ronald( 1963-2016)

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