As if clowns did not suffer enough from some serious reputation management issues, Ronald McDonald has been in the spotlight lately due to a campaign by Corporate Accountability International calling for the chain to “retire” its long-time icon and other marketing activities the group asserts are leading to children’s health issues.
Regardless of whether or not you believe food companies market to children and influence the health of a generation, the issues raised by this campaign to scrap the clown go beyond marketing to children and into the sensitive realms of personal choice, parental responsibility, social issues and trust. Those who practice corporate reputation management understand that McDonald’s has a big job, and an even bigger responsibility, to balance the complex web of doing what’s right with serving their customers and other stakeholders. Those decisions are seldom simple and never are easy.
Corporate reputation can be a very fickle condition. Sometimes earned, sometimes defined by accident, sometimes formed or changed as a result of direct attack, but most certainly always changing, always under threat and always offering great opportunity—probably even more so in cases when the brand and its “face” are as iconic as McDonald’s and Ronald.
As this scenario plays out, what hangs in the balance is nothing less than the very personality of a beloved and purely American brand. It will be interesting to see how this story concludes.