|Ronald Remains the Man for McDonald's
By: Alexander Villeneuve
The world's most famous fast-food chain recently side stepped another attack from activist health care professionals and Corporate Accountability International, a consumer watchdog organization known for its influence against big tobacco companies. They're pushing for changes in how the fast feeder markets itself to children, specifically calling for longtime mascot Ronald McDonald to take accept an early retirement.
With the support of a McDonald's shareholder (the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia), CAI was able to force a vote on the issue of Ronald's future at McDonald's shareholder meeting last Thursday. Jim Skinner, McDonald's Chief Executive stood by his mascot, saying that "Ronald is going nowhere." The shareholders backed him up; the issue failed with only 6% of the vote.
While I don't completely agree with the CAI's mission of "Retiring Ronald," I believe their mission will progress if it stays focused and consistent. It has astutely chosen Ronald as the scapegoat for an obesity epidemic and simplified the complex problem's root cause as junk food being marketed to children. Hard to argue against protecting the welfare of our youngest generation, isn't it? They picked that battle long ago and have kept fighting the same fight; while never getting mixed up in arguments about the low nutritional standards of other restaurants or their marketing practices, how the same junk food in larger portions is marketed to adults, with greater frequency or how living a more active lifestyle can curb obesity.
On the other hand, I also believe that if you're McDonald's you can make some very strong arguments for Ronald, other than the standard law-abiding rebuttal of "we offer a variety of food choices to our customers and provide nutrition information about our menu items so that families can make informed decisions." For example, it's difficult to ignore Ronald's namesake charity, the Ronald McDonald House, which provides "a home-away-from-home" for families who must travel long distances so their children can receive treatment for serious illnesses.
As an aside, I think this situation raises some interesting questions about what exactly the power of marketing is. Further, is it really that responsible to treat marketing as a low-level form of brainwashing when children are involved, yet adults are not immune from it's power either? Who is going to decide at what age we all become smart enough to outsmart the marketers?
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