Ronald McDonald debuts his new clothes © McDonald's
By Andria Cheng, MarketWatch
MarketWatch

Consumers are not impressed with Ronald McDonald's makeover.

For the first time since 2005, McDonald's (MCD), faced with slowing demand in markets including the U.S., is giving its famous mascot a makeover. The company worked on the project for close to two years and conducted focus groups with customers around the world, spokeswoman Becca Hary said.

McDonald's Hary said the company "felt it was time to evolve his look for his debut into social media."

The result: The clown character who once wore a jumpsuit will now be wearing yellow cargo pants, a vest and striped rugby shirts. For special occasions, he can don a red blazer and a bowtie. A Tony-award-winning theatrical designer for "Beauty and the Beast" designed the wardrobe change, the company said.

The idea behind his makeover came as McDonald's aimed to make Ronald an active player on social media. While he does not yet have his own Twitter handle, McDonald's will push his hashtag #RonaldMcDonald. The company said owners and operators of its new and remodeled locations can choose to include the new look in their graphics, furniture and other design elements. McDonald's will unveil new television ads and promotional materials in the U.S. later this year. Hary declined to say how much the design revamp cost.

"It's an attempt to figure out a viable strategy in social media," which is a conversation type of medium, said Barbara Kahn, a marketing professor at the Wharton School, in an interview, adding firms that have done well on social media tend to use a real person or a character to engage in conversations. "It's like the personification of the company through a voice. It makes sense as a marketing strategy to resurrect a character as a voice. The whole idea is to get attention and awareness. The hope is for people to get to stores."

While McDonald's strategy makes sense, they still could face criticism, as they have in the past, for using a clown to market their product to children. "That's the kind of risk they are taking," Kahn told MarketWatch.

McDonald's Hary said the company is a "responsible marketer" that offers a variety of items for families to make their meal decisions. "He's "a well-loved character and is the fun experience of visiting a McDonald's restaurant," she said.

The company revealed Ronald's new looks late Wednesday. Social analytics firm Topsy's search showed the number of tweets with the #NotLovinIt hashtag has far exceeded the #LovinIt hashtag since "The Today Show" asked about the public's impression of the clown's new looks Friday morning.

A study conducted for MarketWatch by General Sentiment, which measures the tone of a topic on social media, showed "Ronald McDonald" sentiment on Twitter has fallen to negative 33 on Thursday from positive score in the 30s the prior two days. His reputation recently also was hurt by rival Taco Bell's (YUM) starring characters with his name to launch its breakfast waffle sandwich, according to General Sentiment.

McDonald's isn't fazed.

"We've been pleased with the reaction Ronald has received in the media with his new debut," Hary said. "He's an important part of pop culture and enjoys being part of the conversation."

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