ADVERTISING AGE – By Maureen Morrison
Ronald McDonald walks into a shopping mall in Kuala Lumpur.
That’s not the beginning of a joke, but it is what actually happened over the weekend. The newly madeover clown made his first big appearance Saturday and Sunday in a shopping mall in Kuala Lumpur, where McDonald’s built a mini sledding hill and brought in machines to generate snow (or a close approximation of it).
Having Ronald McDonald go sledding in a shopping mall in Malaysia is about as random as it can get, but it’s a move that’s part of larger global effort to have Ronald appeal to a broader audience than kids, including adults and families.
David Zlotnik, director-global marketing at McDonald’s said that the randomness of the event is part of the strategy, which is about “engaging people in places where they are and to interact through their own social-media channels.” Ronald will be appearing at events globally moving forward, both large and small, said Mr. Zlotnik, and participants at such events will be encouraged to use the #RonaldMcDonald hashtag.
In other words, Ronald is being used to spark conversation in social media. McDonald’s is “using Ronald to help drive new audiences and connect [with them] online,”said Mr. Zlotnik. He said that social-media data from this past weekend’s event was not yet available.
Ronald’s global gallivanting is the first step in the chain’s new “Fun makes great things happen” campaign, which was announced in April in tandem with Ronald’s makeover that was touted as a more modern look that included yellow cropped cargo pants and a fitted red blazer. (For this event, though, Ronald went casual and sported a rugby shirt.)
At the time, the chain also said Ronald would also take a bigger role in social media, though that has yet to happen. Mr. Zlotnik said that Ronald will tweet on occasion from the @McDonaldsCorp hashtag, the corporate handle for the company, but there are no plans yet for him to have his own handle. The chain is presumably playing it safe on social media, given how easily social media users can rip on companies.
The video was created by French agency June, Twenty First and the event was handled by Olson Engage, the PR arm of indie agency Olson. Mr. Zlotnik said about 7,500 people stopped by the indoor sledding hill.
It’s clear the chain is trying to divorce Ronald from the Happy Meal and kids marketing in general, largely because the company has been continually slammed for using him to market to children. Last month, McDonald’s unveiled a new Happy Meal character, Happy, which was an anthropomorphized Happy Meal box. It’s not totally clear what Happy’s role will be, but he’ll be the primary mascot used to promote Happy Meals. According to Mr. Zlotnik, “Ronald represents the brand, and Happy represents the Happy Meal.”
In recent years, Ronald had been relegated to the internet and also promoted the Ronald McDonald House Charities, though he has been appearing in some Happy Meal TV spots. Mr. Zlotnik said that Ronald will continue to promote the Ronald McDonald House Charities.
Aside from the events he’ll be appearing at globally to promote fun, Ronald will appear in some TV ads in the fourth quarter, and he’ll also be making appearances in the fall to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Ronald McDonald House Charities.