Ronald didn't do Twitter. For half a century he didn't do fashion. But last week, the global face of McDonald's became the latest corporate brand to be given an on-trend makeover, transforming overnight from a children's clown that flogged burgers to the hungry masses, to a 21st-century hipster complete with cut-off cargo pants, natty blazer and vest.
Once, the red-haired clown was content to appear in a whimsical McDonaldland, a world of green fields and enchanted forests, with his companions Mayor McCheese, the Hamburglar, Grimace, Birdie the Early Bird and the Fry Kids. Last week, he appeared to have upped sticks to a Brooklyn loft conversion, stronghold of the US hipster – all brick walls and floorboards.
"His iconic big shoes will remain the same," stressed McDonald's as it revealed the new Ronald who, the company added, would continue to represent the "magic and happiness" of eating under the golden arches. The fast-food giant also thrust its mascot into the world of social media, albeit six years after Twitter was first deemed cool. Ronald's "active role" on Twitter and Facebook will engage consumers with the message: "Fun makes great things happen."
There was no mention of McDonald's lacklustre first-quarter earnings, reported a day before Ronald was unveiled to the world. The company's net income had dropped by five percent to $1.2bn, in what analysts described as a worse-than-expected performance that was eclipsed by #Ronaldmcdonald.
Some observers said Ronald was "still creepy". Slate reported the redesign had been two years in the making. The general consensus was that Ronald, now 51, was a "mid-life crisis dad".
The stakes are high for both Ronald and McDonald's, which Forbes rates the world's sixth most valuable brand, with an estimated worth of $39bn. Dean Barrett, the McDonald's global relationship officer, said: "Customers today want to engage with brands in different ways and Ronald will continue to evolve to be modern and relevant."
Ann Hould-Ward, a Tony award-winner for her costumes for Beauty and the Beast on Broadway, created Ronald's new outfits. No respecter of grammar, McDonald's says: "Reserved for special occasions, Ronald has a whimsical new red blazer with the Golden Arches on the front pocket and his well-recognised signature on the back, and a special bow tie to complete the look." Hould-Ward describes working with Ronald as "one of the highlights of my career", adding: "I've worked with some really big names over the years and suiting up a living legend was a real thrill."
Ronald is only the latest corporate icon to move with the times. Michelin man, imagined in 1894 as the mascot of the world's leading tyre manufacturer, was for more than a century morbidly obese. However, in 1998, as healthcare costs for the overweight began to soar, he was given a noticeable tummy tuck.
The jolly green giant was once not so gigantic or green. The corn-selling character – who has a 55ft statue erected in Minneapolis, Minnesota, to celebrate his success – was, in 1928, merely a hunched human carrying corn. Over the years, his skin has changed, and he has grown into a pseudo-superman, shifting huge quantities for the international colossus General Mills.
Chuck E Cheese, the mouse mascot of the US pizza restaurants, has had a similar change to Ronald in a bid to appeal to a more modern, and youthful, demographic. Two years ago, he turned from a skater, who sported fingerless gloves and baggy shorts, to a jean-wearing rock rodent carrying an electric guitar.
McDonald's arch rivals Burger King created its mascot, The King, seated on a burger throne, in 1955. By 2004, after a series of increasingly bizarre designs, he had been dubbed the "creepy King" and was quietly dethroned in 2011.
The jury is still out on Ronald.Reuse content