Ronald McDonald made big news this week after a corporate watchdog group encouraged approximately 600 health-care professionals to sign a letter asking McDonald's to stop using Ronald to appeal to children. When I heard the news, I became a bit perplexed. I'm open to hearing a vigorous debate about the issue of the ethics of marketing certain products to children. That's not my source of surprise. My real question is this: Is Ronald really relevant to children these days? Do my kids connect with him at all? I don't think so. He doesn't have a bad image. He just doesn't appear very prominently when it comes to characters with which they resonate. Put simply, I'm not sure Ronald is the reason my children, or most children in fact, want to go to McDonald's - I'm pretty sure it's the really tasty french fries! At the end of the day, if we want to get our children to eat healthier, I'm not sure banning Ronald will have a measurable effect.
What's the lesson of this story for other companies? Many firms have to think about the ethics of marketing to children. They need to be ready for an increasing amount of challenges to their policies, especially around the issues of health and wellness. For start-ups and younger firms, executives might even ask: Do we have a clear policy yet as to what marketing strategies are allowed or not allowed in our firm? Should we work together with our employees to outline such a policy before we have a public relations mess on our hands?