R.I.P. Ronald

Bruce McArthur Clowns, Fast food, Jack in the Box, Marketing, McDonald's

I never liked McDonald’s. As a kid, when the golden arches would come into view through dad’s windshield, my heart would sink while my taste-buds retracted. Part of my  aversion to the chain was their hideous clown. I abhor clowns of any design or purpose, whether circus, rodeo, fast-food pimp or serial-killer alter-ego. Except for one. (More on him later.)

It’s recently been announced that Ronald McDonald is being phased out. Hallelujah. It only took McDonald’s management six decades to figure out that people revile adult males who disguise themselves with grotesque make-up and goofy garb and try to get close to other people’s children. If I want my kids to laugh, I’ll show them a San Kineson DVD.

Somewhere deep down where they never wanted to admit, they probably knew Ronald was a loser, so they gave him a noble, philanthropic side (Ronald McDonald House), but no matter how much good karma it banked for him, it couldn’t alter his DNA which, like all clowns, was pure creep. Besides Ronald, McDonald’s offered  luke-warm burgers, luke-warm coffee, (doubtless required by attorneys to avert scalded tongue lawsuits) and sappy, cream curdling jingles written by Barry Manilow.

When I reached adulthood, McDonald’s had become even less inviting. Most closed by 9 or 10 pm. Not very utilitarian for stoners and drunks looking for pre-dawn victuals. And if you wanted breakfast  – even one thin minute after 11 am – you were refused. Ray Kroc was personally reprimanding you for sleeping in. By the time I could get a beer with my fake ID, I’d turned my back on Mickey D’s forever, and signed on for what’s become a life-time hitch with my buddy, Jack.

Jack is a clown too, but a different kind of clown. He’s really just a big, hollow clown head on a regular guy’s body. Jack’s coffee is hot. Jack’s tacos are great. Jack welcomes you with breakfast – or anything – 24/7. Jack does not judge. This is not by accident. Back in 1980, some smart suit at Jack corporate realized there was no sense in going head-to-head with McDonald’s, so they went straight after their core customers – night crawling kids, revelers, hipsters, shift-workers or anybody else whose skin would crawl at the forced gaiety and ersatz wholesomeness of the McDonald’s “experience.” In fact, so in tune with its customers is Jack, in one of his recent commercials, he presents his wife with a black leather studded slave collar. Whether it was intended for him or her, we’ll never know, but the message was clear. Jack… is kinky.

McDonald’s success is inarguable, but their hegemony is over. Subway (now there’s an appetizing name for a restaurant chain, evoking New York’s filthy, dangerous and vermin-ridden mass transit system) has surpassed them in domestic venues.  I predict they will continue to lose market share because while Jack welcomes you to the club with a wink and a nod and assumes you know the secret handshake, McDonald’s thinks you’re a moron and panders to you with treacle.

Just compare and contrast their websites. Click here for insipid, uninspired, beige (literally) boredom: www.mcdonalds.com. Click here and interface with the smart aleck master of the munchies: www.jackinthebox.com

Ronald is dead. Long live Jack.