When Should Your Brand Get a New Mascot?

McDonald’s CEO Jim Skinner took a stand on behalf of Ronald McDonald at last week’s annual shareholders meeting in the face of criticism that the clown mascot promotes unhealthy eating habits and childhood obesity.

“Ronald McDonald is an ambassador for McDonald’s, and he is an ambassador for good,” Skinner said. “He does not advertise unhealthy food to children.”

Still, people continue to take issue with the mascot, wondering whether Ronald should be retired. Today, food website Epicurious asks whether there should be a change.

Recently, we’ve watched Aflac turn their search for a new voice for its duck mascot into a news story. Old Navy finally bid adieu to its spokes-mannequins in recent months. Capital One has added Alec Baldwin to its commercials, so could the Vikings be soon making an exit? And Old Spice has toyed with the idea of an ad without man mascot Isaiah Mustafa.

So when is it time for a new face?

According to The Wall Street Journal, all but six percent of shareholders at that meeting voted to keep Ronald McDonald. And an index created by The Marketing Arm, an Omnicom firm, found that 99 percent of consumers recognized the giant red-haired clown.

“I’m not so sure Ronald is keeping up with where the brand is going. I wouldn’t be so dogmatic if I were McDonald’s. I’d do a deep dive into whether he’s still meaningful or a throwback to the last century,” Cheryl Swanson, a managing partner at the branding firm Toniq says.

Whenever a mascot or spokesperson is doing damage to the brand, it’s time to cut it loose. Consumers are concerned about the negative impact that Ronald McDonald could be having on childhood obesity rates. Even though he’s been the mascot for nearly a half century, it’s likely time to respond to consumer concerns and find something new and positive.

Like a logo, a change in spokesperson is a big deal, affecting the connection that consumers have with a brand. If the mascot no longer reflects what the brand is or where it’s going, why hang on to it?

According to that WSJ story, McDonald’s has made alterations to the clown to make him look less twentieth century, implying that the company knows Ronald is getting a little tired. And Eater.com quotes a spokesperson who says that Ronald “isn’t tied to the menu,” which also implies that the complaints aren’t falling on deaf ears. Sounds like it’s time to go back to the drawing board.