was a fictional universe which was formerly used in marketing for McDonald's
. In addition to being used in advertising
, the characters were used as the basis for equipment in the playgrounds
attached to some McDonald's.
Cycle one of McDonaldland began in January 1971, about the same time McDonald's was replacing its drive-ins with mansard
-roofed restaurants. These early commercials were built on an upbeat, bubble-gum
style tune, and featured a narrator
, and plots that involved various villains trying to steal a corresponding food item, foiled by Ronald.
McDonaldland itself, as it was depicted in the commercials, was a magical place where plants, foods, and inanimate objects were living, speaking characters. In addition to being the home to Ronald and the other core characters, McDonaldland boasted "Thick shake volcanoes", anthropomorphized "Apple pie trees", "The Hamburger Patch" (where McDonald's hamburgers grew out of the ground like plants), "Filet-O-Fish Lake", and many other fanciful features based around various McDonald's menu items. In the commercials, the various beings are played by puppets or costumed performers, very similar to those used in the popular H.R. Pufnstuf program.
An ad agency vying for McDonald's advertising accounts had originally hoped Sid and Marty Krofft
, the creators of H. R. Pufnstuf
, would agree to license their characters for commercial promotions. After the McDonaldland promotion went forward, the Kroffts were dismissed without being credited.
In 1973, the Kroffts successfully sued McDonald's, arguing that the entire McDonaldland premise was essentially a ripoff of their television show. In specific, the Kroffts claimed that the character Mayor McCheese was a direct ripoff of their character, "H. R. Pufnstuf" (being a mayor himself). McDonald's initially was ordered to pay $50,000. The case was later remanded as to damages, and McDonald's was ordered to pay the Kroffts more than $1 million when the case was finally settled in 1977. As a result of the lawsuit, the concept of the "magical place" was all but phased out of the commercials, as were many of the original characters.
1980s to 2007
The characters that remained following the lawsuit were Ronald, Grimace, Hamburglar, and the Fry Kids. Birdie the Early Bird would join the fold soon after, representing the restaurant's new breakfast line in the early 1980s. From then on, the characters seemed to live in the real world and they interacted with real-life characters, but commercials still fell under the blanket of "McDonaldland". Soon after, the Happy Meal Gang and the McNugget Buddies were prominent features in the commercials (representing the restaurant's "Happy Meals" and "Chicken McNuggets" respectively, being the menu items that mainly appealed to kids) along with Ronald and the gang.
At one point, McDonald's released a video tape series which depicted Ronald, Grimace, Birdie, Hamburglar, and a few new characters like Ronald's dog. These videos would begin in live action, in what resembled a modern-day McDonaldland. Then when the characters would enter down a tube, or other means of travel, they would become animated. The video series had 7 parts and were available for purchase in McDonald's restaurants.
In recent years, the McDonaldland premise has largely been phased out of advertising campaigns, with modern commercials usually just depicting Ronald alone in "real world" situations with real children.
has become a growing problem in recent years, McDonald's and other fast food chains have been under increasing pressure to revamp their products and advertising with healthier alternatives. As part of this campaign, McDonald's has agreed to discontinue marketing to children under the age of twelve.
References in Popular Culture
The Simpsons - Episode: Missionary Impossible: Mr Burns says to Homer: And worst of all, you took the Hamburgler's birthday off last Monday *and* Wednesday. [throws down report] Which is it?
- Ronald McDonald, the primary icon of McDonald's characters.
- Grimace is a large, purple anthropomorphic being of indeterminate species with short arms and legs. One theory is that Grimace is a large, walking, talking taste-bud. He is known for his slow-witted demeanor. His most common expression is the word "duh". Originally, Grimace was the "Evil Grimace", with two pairs of arms with which to steal milkshakes. After that first campaign, the character was revised to be one of the "good guys", and his number of arms was reduced by two. Commercials and merchandise generally portrayed him as a well-meaning simpleton, whose clumsy antics provided a comic foil to Ronald McDonald. The character was retained after the streamlining of the characters in the '80s. Voiced by Frank Welker.
- The Hamburglar character was a thief that dressed in a black-and-white hooped shirt and pants, a red cape, and a wide-brimmed hat and whose primary object of theft was hamburgers. Voiced by C.W. Wolfe.
- Birdie the Early Bird was the first identifiably female character, introduced in 1980 to promote the company's new breakfast items. She is a yellow bird wearing a pink jumpsuit and flight cap and scarf. In the ads she is frequently portrayed as a poor flyer, and somewhat clumsy in general. Birdie's origin is explained in one old commercial: A giant egg falls from the night sky into McDonaldland, and Ronald McDonald decides to show the egg love. When the egg hatches, Birdie was so happy that she had already made friends that she decided to stay in McDonaldland. Birdie is voiced by Russi Taylor.
- Fry Kids are characters used to promote McDonald's french fries. When they first appeared, they were called Gobblins and liked to steal and gobble up the other characters' french fries. Accompanying them was the "Keep Your Eyes on Your Fries" jingle. Their name was later changed to the Fry Guys, then the Fry Kids, as female characters (the "Fry Girls") were introduced. They are differently-colored, shaggy, ball-like creatures with long legs and no arms, almost resembling a pom-pom with legs and eyes. Most of the time they are mute, but when they speak they talk in some sort of gibberish. In other commercials, they all talk very quickly at once. Their only facial features are bulbous eyes and thick, black eyebrows. The characters were retained after the streamlining of the characters in the '80s.
- Mayor McCheese has an enormous cheeseburger for a head, and sports a top hat, a diplomat's sash, and a pair of pince-nez spectacles. He is portrayed as a giggly, bumbling, somewhat incompetent mayor with a wavering, high-pitched voice that is reminiscent to that of comic actor Ed Wynn. The character was dropped during the streamlining of the characters in the 1980s, He did, however, appear in a 1999 McDonaldland VHS entitled Have Time, Will Travel.
- Officer Big Mac: In addition to McDonald's signature sandwich, Big Mac was the name of a character in McDonaldland. He was similar to Mayor McCheese in that he had a large Big Mac for a head, except he was the chief of police and as such he wore a constable uniform. As the main source of law and order in McDonaldland, he spent most of his time chasing the Hamburglar and Captain Crook. He was featured in several of the campaign's commercials throughout the late '70s and early '80s. The character was dropped during the streamlining of the characters in the '80s.
- Captain Crook was a pirate and is similar in appearance to the famed Captain Hook from Peter Pan. Unlike the Hamburglar, this villain spent his time trying to steal Filet-O-Fish sandwiches from citizens of McDonaldland while avoiding being caught by Big Mac, the Chief of police of McDonaldland. As part of the nautical theme of the character, Captain Crook used ships and waterways as means to escape being captured. In his final appearances, he was renamed simply "The Captain" and his character design made less sinister. The character was dropped during the streamlining of the characters in the '80s.
- The Hamburger Patch is part of the fictional city of McDonaldland where McDonald's hamburgers "grew" like fruit on plants from the Hamburger Patch. Even though hamburgers in McDonaldland were anthropomorphized and spoke, they were picked by characters such as Ronald McDonald and the Hamburglar for consumption. Advertisements featuring the Hamburger Patch were shown as evidence during the McLibel court case in the United Kingdom. During questioning by defendants, McDonald's Senior Vice President of Marketing David Green admitted that showing the reality of meat production "would not be very appetizing". The Hamburger Patch also featured in books and toys used to promote McDonald's. The characters were dropped during the streamlining of the characters in the '80s.
- Iam Hungry was a short-lived McDonaldland character. He was introduced in 1998 and dropped in the early 2000s. The character was a floating green fuzzball with orange arms and a monstrous face. He would often appear when Ronald was dining with kids and would constantly crave food (robble, robble, robble); he would never leave them alone until he got fed.
- CosMc was a temporary character from McDonaldland. He was featured in a series of McDonald's commercials in 1990 when the McDonaldland gang went to the moon. CosMc was an alien who wore a large space suit, and he talked like a surfer dude. CosMc was featured as a character on the video game, M.C. Kids.
- The Happy Meal Gang (Cheeseburger, soft drink, and fries, all regular size) (later joined by the McNugget Buddies)
- The Professor, a mad scientist type character in a lab coat. He was introduced in 1971.
- Uncle O'Grimacey was created for an advertising narrative of the McDonald's fast-food restaurant chain both in celebration of St. Patrick's Day and to mark the annual appearance of the Shamrock Shake. O'Grimacey is the Irish uncle of the character Grimace and is a variant of the Grimace-design in that he is green instead of purple, sports a frock coat covered with several four-leaf clovers, and carries a shillelagh. His design motif is not unlike that of a stereotypical depiction of the Irish folkloric Leprechaun, similar to the mascot of the football team for University of Notre Dame. O'Grimacey resides in his home country for eleven months of the year and visits his nephew Grimace in March, bringing with him his "incredibly delicious" shake. Uncle O'Grimacey is no longer used by the chain for its promotions of the shake.
Many of the dropped characters were still visible to the public years after being eliminated from the advertising campaigns, remaining incorporated among the core characters in the restaurant's "Playland" playgrounds, and in the McDonaldland-themed Happy Meal toys.