The real reason McDonald's got rid of Ronald McDonald

McDonald's has certainly changed quite a bit since its humble California beginnings in the 1950s, and a great deal of that change has happened just in the last decade or so. They've removed many of their playgrounds, spent $6 billion on making their restaurants more high-tech and sleeker-looking, and done everything under the sun to create a menu that appeals to fast casual-loving millennials.

One of the more nostalgic aspects of McDonald's that's faded away has been the burger chain's longstanding clown mascot — Ronald McDonald (via Hello Giggles). The absence of Ronald McDonald is bound to split people into two groups. There are those who will view Ronald's firing from the McDonald's of today as yet another piece of their childhood gone forever. On the opposite side of the coin, are those with more of a "good riddance" attitude about it.

So why, after so many years of promoting Happy Meals, did the Golden Arches finally pull Ronald McDonald from its promotions?

Creepy clown sightings were bad PR for Ronald

Despite the friendly and fun good nature of Ronald McDonald, 2016 bought some bad press to clowns everywhere that not even the almighty machine of McDonald's wanted to try and fix. Perhaps you remember back in 2016 when there was a rash of really spooky clown sightings across the United States. The clowns were chasing motorists with knives, lurking around schools, and otherwise just being real creeps. This wasn't simply something that was causing a stir on internet bulletin boards or Twitter — major media outlets like Time and The New York Times were reporting on the terrorizing clowns.

"McDonald's and franchisees in the local markets are mindful of the current climate around clown sightings in communities and as such are being thoughtful in respect to Ronald McDonald's participation in community events for the time being," spokeswoman Terri Hickey said in a press statement.

It was pretty clear that the creepy clowns were more trouble than McDonald's wanted to deal with and it was time Ronald McDonald to take an extended leave of absence. While it might have been the straw that broke the camel's back, it was hardly the only reason McDonald's parted ways with their clown.

Ronald was facing backlash on his marketing to kids

Ronald McDonald may have been McDonald's main mascot since the 1960s, but his presence was wearing thin before those terrifying clown sightings of 2016. Various watchdog groups had been criticizing Ronald's marketing of unhealthy fast food to impressionable kids for years (via The Chicago Tribune). Representatives of Corporate Accountability International went so far as to call him fast food's version of Joe Camel. Ouch. 

Former CEO Don Thompson attempted to defend Ronald saying in 2014, "You don't see Ronald McDonald eating food." Basically, the message seemed to be that Ronald doesn't eat it — he just sells it. A rebranding of a cooler Ronald McDonald that year that would vibe more with the adult image McDonald's was shooting for was also a flop (via The Washington Post).

He didn't fit in with the hip makeover of McDonald's

McDonald's has been going through a makeover to make its restaurants more appealing to adults — and less like kiddie burger joints — for years. According to The Motley Fool, the company started this makeover in 2012, and they're still in the process of updating its 5,000-plus locations. This means self-order kiosks, refreshed exteriors, and what CNBC described as modernized dining rooms that feel like "barista-style cafes." Does any of that sound like it would gel with cardboard cutouts of a red-haired clown in a yellow jumpsuit? 

McDonald's now wants to be part of the cool crowd and Ronald's goofy look just doesn't fit with the restaurant's new earth tones and dining room bar stools (via CBS). Long story short — Ronald's whole appearance is stuck in the past and Mickey D's is trying to grow up. 

Ronald McDonald lives on at least one day a year

McDonald's could always bring Ronald McDonald back whenever it likes, but these days, if you look through its Facebook or Instagram accounts you'll see that they're totally Ronald-free. 

This doesn't mean that Ronald McDonald has been 100 percent erased from the brand. Not yet, anyway. You can still see Ronald McDonald representing the Golden Arches at least one day out of the year. We're talking, of course, about Thanksgiving and his appearance in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. 

McDonald's has been flying a giant Ronald McDonald balloon in the parade for years and it continued to do so at the 2019 parade. Ronald's parade appearance wasn't exactly smooth sailing, though. Poor Ronald suffered a gash in his leg after being blown into a tree branch. "Everybody saw it," one of the balloon's handlers said (via New York Post). "It was obvious that it happened."

The deflation got so bad that NBC cutaway to pre-recorded footage from an old parade to save Ronald the embarrassment. He'll reportedly be repaired and fly again... but for how long is anybody's guess.