What happened to McDonald’s clown mascot, Ronald McDonald?

Remember Ronald McDonald? You would think that the rampage of scary clowns and killer clowns in 2016 would be enough to drive the McDonald’s clown mascot into oblivion. But the truth is, the beginning of the end for Mr. Ronald McDonald began much earlier. The mainstream clown who lived in the heart of every kid in America has made a slow exit out the back door of his fast food joint, swept away by the winds of change in American culture. What happened to McDonald’s clown mascot, Ronald McDonald? What’s the now-lost clown story of our favorite burger joint?

The history behind McDonald’s clown mascot, Ronald McDonald

What happened to McDonald's clown mascot, Ronald McDonald?
Bozo the Clown from Bozo’s Circus. Image credit: WGN-TV via Wikimedia

The idea behind Ronald McDonald came from Bozo, the famous clown who was loved by all of America. It started as a simple advertisement to bring kids to a McDonald’s outlet in Washington, D.C. and became a huge hit. The children, excited by the hamburger, french fries, and milkshake, drag their parents into the restaurant. In Washington, D.C., Willard Scott played Bozo – who is hired to star in a McDonald’s commercial as the first Ronald McDonald (he dubbed it) to sell hamburgers at a 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 on his nose. While funny, it wasn’t exactly looks that determined long-term success from a marketing standpoint. Later, when Ronald goes patriotic, Scott is dropped, and McDonald’s hires Ringling Brothers clown Michael Polakoff, better known as “Coco the Clown,” to give Ronald a much-needed makeover. The red-haired, red-and-yellow-striped clown soon became widely popular across the country. Then McDonald’s hired Beef Bergeron as Ronald, who had a great history of entertaining, and Ronald McDonald’s instantly became famous, just like a vanilla milkshake.

Although 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 acknowledged that there are more than nine people who play Ronald. If someone asked how he appeared in more than three places at once, the response would be, “If I told you all my secrets, they wouldn’t be secrets anymore. Let’s just say that between you and Santa Claus, it’s magic.”

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

What happened to McDonald's clown mascot, Ronald McDonald?
McDonald’s ads from the 1970s.

The mid-1960s saw the golden age of fast food joints. Ronald starred in all the commercials, generating huge footfalls in all McDonald’s restaurants across the country. In the 1970s, he starred in his own comic book, in the fictional McDonaldland, chasing down hamburgers and dealing with a Grimace stealing soda, along with his friends, Mayor McCheese, and Officer BigMac. McDonaldland has become a local craze, and Ronald has become a household name, steadily gaining popularity. In the eighties. No other competitor can beat the indomitable McDonald’s. Ronald has been in commercials, TV shows, cartoons, and video games, and even starred in a feature film called Mac and Me. In a word, it was “unstoppable”!

What happened to McDonald's clown mascot, Ronald McDonald?
McDonald’s character. Image credit: McDonald’s

The rise of the McDonald’s empire with Ronald McDonald culminated in the 1980s with the introduction of the Happy Meal. It was less about the food and more about the free game inside. Ronald-based toys and masks were already in circulation. Ronald would present the games that were to be released next with Happy Meals. Kids lined up outside McDonald’s joints to pick up their toys. These toys have tripled their sales in no time, ensuring multiple visits for children to complete their toy collection. Ronald was and remains the face of the UK charity Ronald McDonald House, whose mission is to keep families close to each other.

What happened to McDonald's clown mascot, Ronald McDonald?
McDonald’s restaurant in Beijing (the 1990s). Image credit: Joseph Sohm / Shutterstock.com

Ronald has enjoyed the glory of his success as a mascot. In the 1990s, Ronald led the way to success with the opening of McDonald’s in Asian countries, as well as former Soviet countries. People lined up in incredible numbers for hours to eat at McDonald’s. Soon every child in every country knew who Ronald was. So, why did he disappear? What happened to McDonald’s mascot the clown Ronald McDonald?

Bad publicity began to destroy the once invincible Ronald McDonald.

What happened to McDonald's clown mascot, Ronald McDonald?
Image credit: Bilanol/shutterstock.com

McDonald’s rise to fame continued through the 1980s, when the slogan was “Quick, Convenient, and More”. But the 1990s brought about a change in the mentality of the fast-food-heavy population. Childhood obesity grew, and people soon realized the connection between junk food and illness and heart disease. Doctors have protested against McDonald’s for marketing unhealthy foods to children. Suddenly Ronald, from being the face that represents fun, laughter and good times, is now a burger salesman playing a major role in the childhood obesity epidemic.

McDonald’s soon began to suffer losses and had to close nearly 200 restaurants due to poor performance. Ronald has also been compared to the old “Joe Camel” cigarette ads, in which the use of a cartoon mammal lured teens to smoke, resulting in a huge audience reaction. McDonald’s has come under the watchful eye of the International Corporation for Corporate Accountability for marketing to children an unhealthy way of life. Ronald is no longer the mascot everyone loves. MacDonald’s magic has become history, and its population has vanished, never to be seen again.

McDonald’s has renamed the fast food restaurant more health-friendly to maintain its reputation.

What happened to McDonald's clown mascot, Ronald McDonald?
McDonald’s slogan. Image credit: Tooykrub/shutterstock.com

Faced with a public backlash against fast food, McDonald’s attempted to relaunch the brand, this time taking into account the nuances of the new era, as well as targeting adults. The interiors have been redesigned to look more modern with less bright colours. The menu now has chicken salad (although people hardly ordered it). Their slogan was changed to “I love it”.

it worked. Everyone loved it. Captured the spirit of the new age. But with these changes, the need for a red clown to market the newly developed brand became almost non-existent. Real amulets were used, and they were more closely related. Thus, the jester was seen less and less and became more like a symbolic amulet. McDonald’s also signed a deal with Disney to promote their movies, and it worked like a charm. There was no place for a rowdy red-haired clown in the new age of health and identity-conscious consumers. The taste of this vitality is gone.

Then came 2016. And clowns’ reputation changed forever.

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

What happened to McDonald's clown mascot, Ronald McDonald?
Ronald McDonald(left) and evil clown (right). Image credit: s_bukley/shutterstock.com

In 2016, a series of bizarre incidents made clowns the stuff of nightmares. People dressed as clowns began scaring and attacking the public in multiple incidents that spread across the US and the UK. The clown scare that started as a scare hoax soon turned serious and pulled America out of its safety net. Scary clowns have been lurking in people’s backyards, sneaking around schools, attacking cars, killer clowns chasing people and motorists with knives. It seemed as if the world had lost its mind. Target, Walmart, and other supermarkets have pulled clown costumes from their shelves. The clown scare gripped America.

So, naturally, not to tarnish their image any further, McDonald’s decided to give Ronald a break once and for all. They didn’t want him to be on the same team as those creepy clowns. Officially, after the clown apocalypse, Ronald, the happy-go-lucky clown, is slowly fading from the scene. Although he occasionally appears on social media and at 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 guys with red noses that make children laugh. The kids have moved on, and the overly fun and hilarious clowns are a thing of the past.


Tricare west is a global news publication that tells the stories you want to know.

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