Sunday, 19 December 2010

Character reference: Ronald McDonald

As I mentioned, the negotiated project started with me trying to say something about famous brand/company mascots and the ethics/stereotypes of their respective owners from the last 10 years... I wanted to take the original use of these mascots and turn it around. I began looking at the history of these mascots and also visual ways of showing evolution.. the progression of these characters from their naive beginnings and venture into the world of advertising... to how 50 or so years has had an affect on their personas.

Christopher Baker, actually overlaid every US patent design for a 'toy gun' which seemed to form a generic and universal shape of a gun that we all would recognise...

it's this simple visual idea which got me thinking about finding every possible incarnation of Ronald McDonald (and other mascots) and then comparing them to see if I could spot a trend or possibly predict the future "look" for these mascots. In particular, as McDonalds has tried to change their image and keep up with the times... Ronald has streamlined and become more active to promote a healthy lifestyle... so will he become completely digital in the years to come? part robot? or alien? The only downside was, finding relevant and clear images of these characters from over the years isnt too easy...

Ronald McDonald:

Before the brightly coloured clown we all know and lo..we all know.. there was Speedee the previous mascot (who can still be seen on some of the restaurant signs in the US) who was used from the late 40's to the 60's. During the early 60's, Bozo the clown was very popular amongst children and this sparked off the first incarnation of the Ronald McDonald we all recognise today, although he was somewhat different back then. We can see the striped uniform showing its ugly head early on, but rather than a big yellow jumpsuit, Willard Scott (who also played Bozo the clown) turned some of the existing McDonalds products (drinks cup, fries bag, cardboard tray) into a costume, hat, and nose!

This is the Ronald we see more of nowadays.. a bit of jump from how he first started.. but theres many subtle changes that happen over the 50 years he's been in McDonalds employ that have affected how and why he looks how he does today. The First is the overall clown appearance has been toned down as in... the bagginess of his trousers has been streamlined, his hair has become somewhat neatened and smarter (as far as big red wig can be), the comically sized Harry Hill-esque collar has also been down sized but one of the biggest changes is the size of his stripes. That's right.... Advertising giants, Leo Burnett, were hired to change McDonalds image, restyle Ronalds hair and spent months discussing whether to increase the width of his stripes.. (check the 70's Ronald and you'll see what I mean)... they were also responsible for the recent shift in McDonalds public image in their television adverts, focussing more on the use of natural ingredients, healthy lifestyles and family values as kids and parents plant and farm a piece of land revealing an image like a giant art attack! ;)

Some of Ronald's previous incarnations...

He used to have a flying Hamburger and the Hamburglar and Grimace where actually evil characters who stole the food and drinks in McDonalds Land.

I actually prefer this version, seen around the late 90's early 00's, due to its quirky character and vectored design. There's just something eternally creepy about a man dressed as a clown, maybe that's come from watching Stephen King's 'IT', but in this design Ronald has a cute and almost naive persona, reminiscent of Japanese Anime characters, he looks younger and it suits the cartoon fantasy world associated with Ronald and the other characters from McDonalds land.

It was almost too easy to find anti-mcdonald's artwork... everybody loves to jump on the band wagon and run with stereotypes.... I mean, we all know eating fast food everyday isnt good for us (no matter where its from) but you cant blame a company mascot for that.. can you? has been set up as a campaign to retire the hamburger happy clown so that children are no longer influenced by his brightly coloured outfit, wacky actions and hooked on happy meals... personally I blame the parents!

Pennywise from 'IT'
a funny photo story of the decline of Ronald McDonald: link
David Parkins: editorial illustrator link

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