Miss Ronald McDonald? Blame the Great Clown Panic of 2016

Ronald McDonald has been the leading mascot for the world's largest burger chain, but he's been absent in recent years. What happened to him?

Mustafa Gatollari - Author

Sep. 15 2021, Published 2:54 p.m. ET

Mascots are a funny phenomenon. You would think that you wouldn't need a cartoon dog to sell you sweetened bits of grain corn and artificial flavoring, but it certainly helps. In some instances, mascots become cultural icons that are even bigger than the products they were designed to sell in the first place. Heck, sometimes they even get their own video games that have become the bane of GameStops everywhere.

For decades, Ronald the clown has been synonymous with McDonald's, but he's been absent in recent years. So what happened to him?

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What happened to Ronald McDonald?

There was a time when Ronald appeared in a ton of commercials for the fast food giant. Sure, you can still visit a Mickey D's that's got a statue of the yellow-jumpsuit-wearing clown chilling on a park bench like a grinning Aqualung who can't wait to sell you hot food in paper containers, but you probably have noticed he's been missing from a lot of McDonald's branding in recent years. So what gives?

Ronald McDonald with sunglasses
Source: Getty Images
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There are a couple of reasons as to why we've been seeing less and less of Ronald over the past few years. It's no secret that there are a large number of companies that attempt to market products toward children using "hip" or enticing marketing. Think Camel Joe; the cartoon dromedary mammal was called out as being a blatant attempt at marketing unhealthy cancer sticks to kiddos, luring them into the habit.

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And while it's never been a secret that fast food isn't exactly the healthiest of meal options, Morgan Spurlock's Super Size Me film really got folks hating on the convenient, cheap grab-and-go meals when it debuted in 2004. Throngs of people decried McDonald's and other chains as being responsible for the nation's obesity epidemic and its lack of forthrightness when it comes to nutritional value and daily caloric needs.

Thus, Mickey D's came under fire from groups like Corporate Accountability International, which lobbies against big businesses using kid-friendly marketing tactics to try and lure youngsters into loving products that may greatly inhibit their quality of life.

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While I would argue that my childhood fondness for McDonald's had less to do with a clown, and more to do with the fact that a day at the Play Place and a cheeseburger was the closest to Disneyland my poor family was ever going to get (and I loved my mom for it), the work from C.A.I. and pressure from others with a similar mindset helped push McDonald's into slowly phasing out Ronald McDonald.

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But a second occurrence in 2016 also had something to do with why McDonald's got rid of Ronald.

Remember in 2016 when reports of creepy clown sightings were rampant all over America? The execs over at the world's largest burger mill probably decided that then was as good a time as any to finally put the red-haired mascot out to pasture.

Then, a year later the IT remake debuted in theaters, so it looks like McDonald's got out of the Ronald game just in time. But just like the McRib, Ronald's probably never truly gone, so don't be surprised if you see him rear his head along with the gang, Grimace included, at another point in the future.

Hopefully they can lay a beatdown on the Hamburglar and toss his body in the ball pit.

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