Gary Conkling Life Notes

Mostly whimsical reflections on life

Ronald McDonald: From Clown to Dude

The Sunday Business section of The New York Times ran an amusing piece that was illustrated with a tattered-looking Ronald McDonald looking into a mirror at a tatted, hipper version of himself.

8-MCDONALDS-blog427The story centered the identity crisis McDonald’s faces as it gravitates from mass-produced burgers and fries to a made-to-order menu. But the two pictures of Ronald told a more interesting story, at least in my mind.

With the benefit of age, I can remember when the Golden Arches first pushed up in my suburban Colorado neighborhood. My friends and I flocked there because we could buy a burger, fries and a shake for pretty much the loose change in our pants.

The food wasn’t really great, but it was fast. You ordered at a window and, presto, out came food, ready to eat on the run.

It was a stroke of architectural brilliance not to have indoor seats. You came, you ordered and you left to munch as you rode in a car or on your bike. I think they had trash cans. Small ones.

That was a long time ago. Expectations about fast food have changed since then. We want food fast, but we also want convenience. We want food fast, but we also want it made to our preference. We want food fast, but we also want something south of the cause of cardiac arrest.

Seeing McDonald’s success, a lot of people saw opportunity. There was Burger King and Jack in the Box. Then there was fast casual dining featuring a wider and often more healthy appearing menu. To keep up, fast food restaurants expanded to serve breakfast. Then came the one-handed fast food breakfast.

There are fast food restaurants with more extensive menus than formal sit-down restaurants. Before long, they may add wine lists (they already have if you count Starbucks as a fast “food” restaurant).

So it is that Ronald McDonald, with a floppy pair of plastic pants, a rasher of red hair and shoes the size of a New Jersey turnpike, is out of style. Dear old Ronald looks like a clown at a time when clowns are sociopathic pariahs.

The spiffier Ronald in the NYT illustration retains the traditional yellow-and-red color palette, but gives him a more boyish face, a more manageable mop of red hair, a stylish open-chested outfit and natty shoes that you might find at a hip shoe store. Ronald sports a stasche and has arms inked with sleeves. He is a dude, not a clown.

Ronald as a dude may not compel anti-fast foodies to return to their roots at McDonalds, but the illustration may signal to just about everyone that a major change has occurred. A much bigger change than when Ronald was put on a diet and showed up much slimmer than his plump original self.

06mcdonalds2-articleLarge-v2Back when I was a kid and fast food was something new, going to McDonalds seemed like a treat. Over the years, it evolved into someplace to avoid. Changing to a made-to-order menu or duding up Ronald won’t change that for me, but it may for others.

However, I do have one suggestion. Ditch the stasche, Ronald. It makes you look like a grease monkey. And that’s part of McDonalds’ problem.


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