Analysts say it is part of a broader trend of fast food chains abandoning the mascots that once defined them. As they embrace a healthier, more upscale image, cartoons and kitsch don't have the selling power they once did.
Ronald McDonald is still around, but the Hamburglar, Grimace and the rest of the crew have been gone for about a decade now — and even Ronald is much less visible in McDonald's marketing today. Taco Bell parted ways with its catchphrase-spouting chihuahua in 2000, and Burger King ditched its mask-wearing king in 2011.
One big reason why mascots are no longer cool is the exploding popularity of so-called fast-casual chains like Chipotle Mexican Grill and Panera Bread. "People seem to like that better now," said Kathy Hayden, a foodservice analyst at Mintel. "People are more serious about food," so that's where marketers are focusing their efforts.
In KFC's case, dropping the Colonel from its new KFC eleven format is part of an ongoing bid to be a "more generic brand" and distance itself from its Southern roots and fried chicken, said Joseph Szala, founder and creative director of Vigor Branding. In the same vein, the brand changed its name to KFC from Kentucky Fried Chicken in 1991.
The concern over childhood obesity also plays a significant role. A nonprofit group has been waging a "Retire Ronald" campaign against McDonald's for a few years now. "You start throwing cartoons in there and wooing children it makes you seem less ethical as a corporation," Szala said.
"There's definitely reputational and even legal concerns," said Mark DiMassimo, CEO of Digo Brands. "Joe Camel worked all too well. ... He sold a lot of that product to kids. That's why he's gone." Likewise, DiMassimo said Anheuser-Busch probably saw the writing on the wall and retired Spuds Mackenzie after coming under fire from the Center for Science in the Public Interest and Mothers Against Drunk Driving, "I imagine the same thing is going on in the restaurant business," he said. "This whole issue of obesity is a top reputational priority."
As Americans consume media has evolved and fragmented, so too has our relationships with brands. "When the mascots really burst onto the scene, branding was identified with awareness ... and television was not just the primary medium but the overwhelming majority of impressions," DiMassimo said. Today, that's no longer the case.
Szala says some fast food companies can get away with keeping their mascots as long as they scrap outdated imagery and as long as they have a close association with the brand. When Twinkies returned to the market this week, Twinkie the Kid was on board for the comeback. The mascot "is going to play a role in the overall marketing" of the snack cakes going forward, a company spokeswoman said.
The Kid got a second chance because people liked him: 83 percent of respondents in an E-Score consumer survey who recognized the mascot had a favorable impression of it. Burger King's short-lived king character, by contrast, failed because customers never really connected it to the brand's food — and because "it was funny, but it was creepy," Szala said. "I question how much it really tied to Burger King's brand foundation." In an E-Score survey, nearly a quarter of respondents said they "dislike [the king] a lot."
"On the other hand, Wendy's has completely jumped ahead," Szala said. The company gave its eponymous redhead got a more modern look and freckles in a logo redesign earlier this year. "They brought her up to date, streamlined her a little more and held onto it."
Even Hooters is updating its owl mascot, following overhauls of the chain's menu and décor in an effort to be more appealing to female diners. This week, it rolled out a more stylized version of the bird. Although it looks more modern, the new version might not win over people it offended in the past: It still has the wide eyes that create a kind of visual double entendre.
Explained Dave Henniger, Hooters' chief marketing officer: "The design of the owl provides the comic relief that mystifies this great brand. It makes people smile… and what's not to like about an owl?"
Officials say a pedestrian has been struck by a vehicle in south Nashville. The hit-and-run happened on the 4000 block of Nolensville Pike on Friday afternoon. A suspect is said to be in custody at thisMore >>
Officials say a pedestrian has been struck by a vehicle on Nolensville Pike in south Nashville.More >>
Officials will be back out on the scene on Friday to investigate a deadly explosion that happened at an ammunition plant in McEwen. The NRT, a special investigative team of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol,More >>
Investigators will be spending all day Friday on the scene of a deadly explosion that happened at an ammunition plant in McEwen.More >>
Friday, April 18 2014 1:21 PM EDT2014-04-18 17:21:36 GMT
A Shelbyville family is picking up the pieces after a huge fire destroyed their home. A viewer sent Channel 4 a photo of the blaze that happened overnight. A family of three was living in the home at theMore >>
A Shelbyville family is picking up the pieces after a huge fire destroyed their home overnight.More >>
Friday, April 18 2014 1:06 PM EDT2014-04-18 17:06:09 GMT
An arrest warrant for criminal homicide has been issued against a man with psychological issues who is accused of killing his uncle. Larry Holmes Jr., 35, is being held at the Middle Tennessee Mental HealthMore >>
An arrest warrant for criminal homicide has been issued against a man with psychological issues who is accused of killing his uncle.More >>
Friday, April 18 2014 12:43 PM EDT2014-04-18 16:43:02 GMT
Police in Gallatin have issued a warning to the public after receiving several reports about a phone scam. Gallatin residents have reported receiving calls asking them to get a Green Dot card worth betweenMore >>
Police in Gallatin have issued a warning to the public after receiving several reports about a phone scam.More >>
Friday, April 18 2014 12:20 PM EDT2014-04-18 16:20:55 GMT
By Suzanne Presto and Dana Ford, CNN(CNN) -- A bill is headed for the governor's desk in Tennessee that would allow for a woman to be prosecuted if she illegally takes drugs while pregnant and the childMore >>
A bill is headed for the governor's desk in Tennessee that would allow for a woman to be prosecuted if she illegally takes drugs while pregnant and the child is harmed.More >>
Friday, April 18 2014 11:37 AM EDT2014-04-18 15:37:44 GMT
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Police say an autopsy has found no evidence of foul play in the death of a man whose body was found underneath a deck behind a Knoxville home. Knoxville Police Department spokesmanMore >>
Police say an autopsy has found no evidence of foul play in the death of a man whose body was found underneath a deck behind a Knoxville home.More >>
A man was shot after he says two men approached him and demanded money. The shooting happened on the 2700 block of Herman Street on Thursday night. The man says he tried to fight back, which is when oneMore >>
A man was shot after he says two men approached him and demanded money. The shooting happened on the 2700 block of Herman Street on Thursday night.More >>
Friday, April 18 2014 5:59 AM EDT2014-04-18 09:59:33 GMT
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Tennessee arts organizations are receiving more than $995,000 in the National Endowment for the Arts' latest round of giving. According to the endowment, more than $750,000 willMore >>
Tennessee arts organizations are receiving more than $995,000 in the National Endowment for the Arts' latest round of giving.More >>