Feel the Burn, Ronald!

Should Ronald McDonald get jacked?

Some critics think so. They’ve equated him with the late Joe Camel, the cartoon character who was the face of the tobacco industry for about a decade until 1997, when overwhelming criticism that JC targeted kids (duh) led to its demise. They argue, as outlined in an extensive piece in Ad Age, that kids should be striving to immolate Ronald’s’s roly-poly, pear-shape figure. Put him on a program of healthy eating and exercise instead, and hope kids get that message!

“We shouldn’t be marketing anything to kids,” Susan Linn, director at Center for a Commercial-Free Childhood,” told Ad Age. “We should be marketing to parents.”

There’s no argument that Ronald targets kids. The dude’s a clown.

And there’s no argument that fast food has been one of the primary culprits in the rise in obesity in America to catastrophic proportions.

But transforming Ronald McDonald into Jack LaLanne isn’t the answer.

Changing the menu is.

As is educating consumers to help them make smarter choices–at Mickey D’s, as well as at the grocery store, at other restaurants, and at home. (That’s the core of Fit! Live! Win!‘s mission.)

McDonald’s, to its credit, has done both. In fact, its healthier menu options are driving the company’s recent success.

Other chains are following suit, mostly because Ronald is eating their lunch.

It’s too soon to say the changes are having an impact on obesity. But such changes take time. Most important, children (and adults!) are being exposed to and embracing the healthier options–like Happy Meals with apples and fewer fries. (Though I’m not naive: Big Macs and those fries will never go away–and I’m not totally mad at it.) Those options are preventing them from becoming “addicted” to the high-fat, high-calorie options, and those diminishing the chances of future cravings.

Elaine Kolish, VP-director of CFBAI, told Ad Age that McDonald’s and Burger King’s new kids’ menus, and other efforts, are “leading children’s advertising for fast food…I think that’s a really positive thing, because it helps popularize fruit and dairy to kids.”

‘The educational efforts are worthwhile, too. In one campaign, McDonald’s has a young boy named Ferris, and his parents, trying to get the pet goat to eat better.

Yes, Ronald could stand to lose a pound or two. But rather than send him the way of Joe Camel, use the preeminent face of fast food to send a smarter message to kids and parents instead.

Challenge yourself!

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