When was the last time you saw red-haired fast-food frontclown Ronald McDonald take a starring role on any McDonald’s advert, Happy Meal box or menu?

If it was back in the good old days of Hamburglar and friends then you’re not alone. But he’s back. USA Today reports that the fast-food giant is sending Ronald kicking and clowning into the modern world in a new campaign designed squarely at kids.

Apparently, the secret recipe is Ronaldgrams. Via a special internet site (kids ask your mom’s permission first, mind) kids can create their own photos with Ronald and download videos and other digitally nutritious goodies to share with their friends.

Inevitably, it has caused somewhat of a stir. Not everyone is as pleased as a Happy Meal. Watchdog groups have already spotted that McDonald’s is going straight for the kids on this one, the ads are being shown on kids TV channels and are talking ‘directly’ to children watching. And obviously, kid-targeted fast-food ads are widely frowned upon.

However, the star of the show isn’t the food. It’s Ronald himself. Goofing around, having fun with kids, and getting them to ‘share’ in the McDonald’s experience. Which doesn’t focus on the food. These new ads are all about happy times and laughter. The food is incidental.

It’s not a fast-food Cultural Movement, but a core principle here is the same – McDonald’s is engaging with young consumers – the reigning champions of pester-power and the real meal-time decision makers in the home – talking about everything but their fast-food. As McDonald’s itself has said, Ronald is never about the hard sell.

And inevitably – and importantly - Moms and Dads will see these ads too. The brand is more conscious than ever of how it’s perceived by parents, hence why they’ve put so much effort into menu development so their food isn’t seen as ‘junk’.

But will it work? Is Ronald – albeit it the new digital, internet superstar Ronald - really still relevant to kids today? That’s not the point. What McDonald’s is doing here is starting engage with families in the new digital age, where brands are in dialog with consumers. It will be interesting to see how the brand involves parents and turns them from simply paying customers (or skeptics) to passionate advocates.

Image by: Gerard Stolk

Original Post: http://scottgoodson.typepad.com/my_weblog/2011/04/mcdonalds-clowns-around-to-engage-with-kids-and-moms-and-dads.html

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