By Barry Klein
I'm the guy that started it -- the adman (not madman) who created the Ronald McDonald character long ago, and I'm proud of it...even now. Like Tony the Tiger, the Keebler Elves, Cap'n Crunch, the animated M&M's, Snap, Crackle & Pop, and many other such characters, the idea was to develop a spokesperson who would favorably represent the brand in communications, making it more interesting and helping the audience relate. It did not seem to be a dirty deed to sell products on television (or any other medium), even to kids whose parents show their love by buying some of what the kids requested.
It was not too long ago that most parents demonstrated their acceptance of responsibility by refraining from over-indulgence, limiting purchases and the amount of product consumed. A few parents did not, but not nearly so many as in recent years. Negativity about the messages that aired on TV programs for kids was almost non-existent then, except for the commercials that made false claims or showed magnified images of toys and games. The organization "Action for Children's Television" was quite vocal and effective in that area. But most of those people did not call for the elimination of all advertising on children's television shows. Healthy eating was what family meals were all about, and was not necessarily related to what kids saw on TV.
Today we listen to a cacophony of proclamations that television advertising is to blame for many children's problems. What is it that turned the situation around? Is it the ads...or is it the abandonment of parental responsibility? How did it come about that governmental action is necessary to substitute for a parent saying "No" to a child. And when did it become acceptable for the passage of legislation to block businesses from promoting products or services that are completely legitimate? Have the ranks of irresponsible parents grown to the point where they are happy with government taking over the parental role?
In a recent campaign, Ronald McDonald is encouraging kids to visit the HappyMeal.com website and upload pictures of themselves to be integrated into videos with Ronald. The videos can then be sent to the child's friends and relations to play recorded "Happy Birthday" or other pleasing messages. How can such an innocent, fun and pleasant social activity harm anything? That the mere connection to McDonald's will be harmful to the child simply stretches credibility, and panders to the belief that commercialism of any kind is to be avoided at all costs.
What's next? Banning McDonald's logos from merchandise that raises funds for Olympic athletes and teams? That's commercial, too. Should support for Ronald McDonald House be terminated because it's connected to McDonald's?
Products which are advertised on children's TV – movies, videos, amusement parks, toys, games, cookies, candies, peanut butter and other foods – are all at risk here, even if they do not employ a character as spokesperson. We need to understand that if any of those products are restricted to the point where the commercials have no effect on sales – or are banned completely – there will be no financial support for Kids TV, and that form of entertainment will be taken away all together.
Standing by and allowing restrictive organizations and governments to ban some of our children's pleasures is the same as (maybe the result of) stepping away from parental responsibility. Mom and Dad should be the ones to guide their children's behavior and enjoyment, drawing the lines between pleasure and potential over-indulgence.
No one ever said that raising kids is simple or easy. Making the task simpler or easier by avoiding the responsibilities involved is a cop-out...perhaps even a crime. How many "No-toys-in-kids-meals" laws will it take to make us vote the people who make them out of office? Some local legislative bodies are working on laws that protect legitimate products and categories of products from the passage of these invasive restrictions. Let's support those efforts.
Let our kids be kids, with normal parental supervision, and maybe they will grow up happily, just like us.
Barry Klein is best known for creating the Ronald McDonald character and led the "You Deserve A Break Today" advertising campaign for McDonald's. In his current occupation as a marketing consultant, Klein has developed business-building concepts, new products and more for Coca Cola, Pizza Hut, Quiznos, Cadillac, Ruby Tuesday, Friendly’s, Perkins, Pay Less Shoes and others. He has been a key contributor to such projects as Stuffed Crust Pizza for Pizza Hut, Prime Rib Subs and Torpedoes for Quiznos, Smashburger and McDonald’s with the Diner Inside.