Why did all the McDonaldland characters disappear

Being a child in the 60’s and 70’s I remember seeing lots of McDonalds commercials featuring a cast of characters, such as Ronald, Grimace, the Hamburgler, Mayor McCheese, and many others. The commercials were clearly geared towards a youth audience, but by the 80’s they seemed to disappear from their television ads. I’m wondering why they would voluntarily give up what appeared to have been a wildly successful advertising campaign that they spent years developing?

I had wondered the same. I know that McD’s took criticism from their marketing junk food to kids but it seems crazy from a business standpoint to give that up. I’m sure they had a more business-based decision than caving in to public outcry over obesity.

There was that infringement issue with Sid and Marty Krofft.


Also, they were really creepy.

I get the impression that McDonald’s targets adults now while back then, the target market was children. I grew up in the 1970s and 1980s and most meals were made and eaten at home, at the kitchen table but now people eat out or get takeout or delivery much more frequently.

This. Kids don’t drive, or make the true decisions. The parents do. So marketing to parents produced a much better result.

Similarly, Redbox was started by McDonalds, and originally were only at McDonalds. It has hugely successful, as moms would take their kids to McDonalds after school and pick up a movie for that evening’s entertainment. The business was non-core to McDonalds, which is why it was sold to Outerwall.

I think “mascot” marketing in general is going away. Remember Cool Spot or The California Raisins? Even when I watch shows with my kid, cereal commercials seem to have less focus on the mascots and are more directed at the parents.

I’m just speculating but I think all advertising campaigns generally have a built-in life expectancy. The advertising company that sold the existing campaign has collected its money; it has no incentive to support the ongoing existence of the campaign. Meanwhile that advertising company, and all its competitors, that have a financial incentive to sell a new advertising campaigns. And the business of these companies is convincing people to buy what they’re selling.

There’s also an incentive within the company to move on to a new advertising campaign. Corporate executives don’t want to give the impression that they’re just riding along; they want to make it look like they’re actively making decisions and moving the company forward.

So everyone involved has an incentive to throw out an existing advertising campaign and replace it with a new one, even if the current advertising campaign seems to be working okay.

For Sure. When I was little, I was afraid to eat the McDonaldland cookies shaped like the Hamburglar. So I gave these to my dad to eat.

Well, yeah, mascots are going out of style. No doubt in a decade or two, they’ll make a roaring comeback, and generation AA (whatever is after Z) will discover them, make a big fuss, etc. :wink:

Hm, what about marketing toys and other merchandise (Star Wars!) to kids? That works…the kids work on their parents. Kids love McDonalds…such marketing works!

I hope someone tells Flo. Soon.

(By the way, the Michelin Man says ‘hi’.)

Not until they find someone better.

That campaign has had a gazillion spin-offs, even other notable characters besides Flo (e.g. Jamie). In a way, they are constantly re-inventing new Progressive campaigns around a germ of a concept that started with Flo however long ago.

Marketing to kids absolutely works, and companies still spend an awful lot of money targeting kids with messages to get their parents to buy things for them. This includes McDonalds, which still does a lot of kid-targeted advertising around Happy Meals.

However, there are far more restrictions on advertising to kids than there were back in the '70s, when McDonaldland was introduced.

The plagiarism case, with the Kroffts, is still very well-known among those of us in the marketing and advertising world, decades later. The resolution of the case did lead to the removal of some of the characters (and the fantasy McDonaldland) – however, a few of the characters, like Hamburglar and Grimace, were kept for many years after, though, they, too, now seem to be retired.

Kinda like all the dozens of variants in the Energizer Bunny ad campaign. There’s an ad campaign that keeps going…and going…and going…

Unless some McDonald’s marketing employee answers, this is all speculation. But I’ll note:

  1. McDonald’s has been getting flak for marketing food that actually tastes good, like burgers and French Fries to kids, as opposed to food you have to force kids to eat (or adults eat only because they’re “healthy” like apple slices). Flak for their marketing in general, but to kids in particular.

  2. They keep having this notion that they’re some sort of fine dining establishment for adults, instead of scrumptious, decadent, inexpensive comfort food for everyone. What’s with serving wraps really? And what about the Arch Deluxe. Or the 1/3rd pound Angus burgers? They keep introducing overcomplicated, expensive, adult oriented menu items when their customer base really wants a Big Mac and fries.

  3. Not directly related to this, but you’ll also notice the indoor playplaces are rapidly disappearing. With marketing to adults combined with the expense, liability, and space these things take, they’re not worth it, especially when 70% of their business is already through the drive thru. The McDonalds near me hasn’t bothered to open their dining room even though they’ve been allowed to do so for months. What little extra business it might bring for people that refuse to switch to drive-thru or take out isn’t worth keeping it clean (or a customer with COVID coming in and lingering).

& Doug, too but someone has noticed

The bigger question is why did they change their building shape. Their roofline was iconic. I could literally drive into any town in the US & know that was a McDonald’s just by their unique roof shape, even if I was on the wrong side to see their signage. Dumb. Dumb. Dum! They could have modernized the building without changing the roofline. The only other chains that come even close to that are Pizza Hut & 7-Eleven.

As I understood it:

The original McCharacters were aimed at kids. It was a place to take kids, with playlands and such, where they could run around and be rambunctious and all the other stuff kids couldn’t do in your typical sit-down restaurant. It was fast, it was predictable, and remember the driver of fast food chains - consistency. Families on road trips knew what they were getting and the approximate cost, from NYC to LA.

Along with the whole copyright problem was also a desire by McDs to become more adult. As others mentioned, we eat out more, cook less. The customer base shifted. After the baby boom, we have the baby crunch - 2 kids or more is a big family. Lots of single adults will stop for a quick bite to eat. Over the last years, their advertising has become more adult. Silly Cheeseburger Mayors and Burglars won’t cut it - even Ronnie is more in the background, shows up for nostalgia. Drive-thrus are open 24-7 in many places. Breakfast fast food for hordes of commuters is a thing too; They are competing with the Dunkin’ Donuts and Tim Hortons (Canada) for the morning and coffee break crowd, and have an eye on being the low-rent Starbucks.

The thing with wraps, deli sandwiches, and even once upon a time pizza and such - changing the menu to add things drives business. When they add deli sandwiches, everyone tries them for a while - then goes back to burgers and eventually they drop them. McRib and Arche Deluxe were trying to add more adult tastes to the menu, and hoping to find the next “Big Mac” that people will keep ordering. Arche was more mustard taste, supposedly to appeal to adults. By marketing it as “not for kids”, however, the 12-year-old crowd was determined to order it to show they were not kids. Not what was intended.

Same with buildings. They drop the garish clown look and bright colors, and try to go with more subdued muted decor. They don’t need the building to advertise who they are, the whole world knows. They don’t need to advertise “new restaurant here” people find them anyway. Again, it goes with the adult, sophisticated look they are after.

But not the Energizer Bunny… He keeps going, and going, and going…

You’ll know they’ve jumped the shark (lizard?) when Flo and the gecko announce their engagement… (ETA: that could be a SNL skit, I better get royalties if they do one.)

Not restricted to Canada anymore, although not nearly as omnipresent in the states as in the Great White North.