Marketing Doctor John Tantillo’s Winner and Loser of The Week: Ronald McDonald and 3-D

Brand Winner… And Loser…


Marketing Doctor John Tantillo’s Winner and Loser of The Week

Winner:  Ronald McDonald

Loser:  3-D




You’d think with 550 health professionals recently signing a letter to get rid of Ronald McDonald, McDonald’s longtime clown/spokesperson, we’d have to shift the yellow and orange icon into the loser column.

As they say in my neighborhood: fuggedaboutit.

The letter ran two weeks ago as a full-page ad in six big newspapers, but the controversy has grown to a fever pitch in the days since.

The health professionals argue that McDonald’s must retire its clown and get rid of its Happy Meals because this kind of “marketing can no longer be ignored as a significant part” of the obesity health epidemic.

McDonald’s shot back with this: “We understand the importance of children’s health and nutrition, and are committed to being part of the dialogue and solution.”

With increasing government and societal pressure on food makers to stop marketing high fat, high sugar foods to kids, and with major letters like this, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the days of Ronald and the Happy Meals really are numbered.

But McDonald’s response at this critical moment could and should make all the difference. 

According to the Davie Brown Index, compiled by Omnicom Group’s Marketing Arm, 99% of U.S. consumers recognize Ronald.

It takes decades to build up this kind of recognizability and it would be sheer stupidity to squander it by retiring Ronald.  And have the healthy food signatories even thought about what this would do to the incredible influence of Ronald McDonald houses on cancer care?

The signatories on this letter and those who think like them are simply not thinking creatively.  But I guarantee that McDonald’s will, because McDonald’s is one of the greatest marketing forces in the world and being one of the greatest marketing forces in the world means being adaptable and meeting customer need.

A few years ago, and for each Christmas since, I made the Fat Santa argument. It goes like this.  Santa is a recognizable role model for kids, but he’s too fat.  Nothing wrong with a plump Santa, but a morbidly obese Santa –well, that’s another story.  My point is that childhood obesity and all its attendant health impacts are real and they must be faced.  With a few tweaks, Santa is well-positioned to help in this battle and being the benevolent, jolly old elf that he is, we all know that he will happily get on board.

Ronald McDonald is in a similar position.  Far from retiring him, McDonald’s can re-invigorate Ronald by enlisting him in the campaign against childhood obesity.  In fact, the entire company is set to become a huge force for good in a healthy eating campaign.  They’ve shown what they can do in terms of weaving in healthy choices into their standard menu and then promoting these options.

Ronald can endorse moderation, healthy choices, and balance.  Cereal companies have been dancing this dance for years, weighing the attraction of sugary, “fun” foods with the need to provide nutritional value.

Bottom line, Ronald McDonald should go nowhere but up from here.  This is Ronald’s moment and rather than go into damage control, McDonald’s needs to lead the crusade –but on its own terms, not those of reactionary health do-gooders.


Just a few years ago, 3-D was touted as the potential savior of the movie industry as it struggled with Internet downloads and declining box office.

But after more disappointing results, 3-D’s this week’s loser.

Turns out that the old saying you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear is still apt –even more so— in our fractured media age.

The trend to “add value” to new releases by offering them in 3-D has proven a bust. 

Fact is, if the content isn’t there, people aren’t going to pay a lot extra for a few effects.

Here are a two telling facts:

1.      Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides did only 47 percent of its business in 3-D (when 60% was expected).  Kung Fu Panda 2 did about the same percentage.  This trend has caused one noted analyst, Richard Greenfield of BTIG, to say, “The American consumer is rejecting 3-D.”

2.      While event films still manage to attract a sizeable 3-D crowd, “smaller” movies trying to exploit the format for more dollars are failing to do so.

The president of IMAX, Greg Foster, says it best: “Audiences are very smart.  When they smell something aspiring to be more than it is, they catch on very quickly.”

And that, folks, is the fundamental reality of marketing.   Consumers aren’t dumb or easily manipulated.  They’re pretty smart.  People expect value for money.  If value for money isn’t there, then sales will evaporate.

What’s worth noting is the performance of Hangover 2.  Not only is Hangover 2 the leading movie of this Memorial Day weekend, it is also the biggest comedy opening of all time.  And, most important, it is decidedly not in 3-D.

Bottom line, the entertainment brand always comes down to a handful of questions: Is the product actually entertaining?  Is the product sought after?  Does a certain technology make the product more entertaining and more sought after? 

If the answer to the last question is “no,” as seems to be the case with 3-D, then the technology is at best a distraction and at worst a liability.  My guess is that for many films, 3-D is the latter, but we’ll probably see it stick around as an option for the so-called “event” films, especially those where the effects enhance the action and the entertainment.

And, remember, it’s always easier when you keep marketing and branding in mind. 



TODAY’S TANTILLO TAKEAWAY –  Brand icons can almost always be re-directed and re-shaped to meet changing needs.





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