Debating Room - McFun - For Sale - Search - What's New? - Mailing List
22/01/02 . By Jonathan Duffy . BBC News Online . UK
How Ronald Got Le Boot
In France, Ronald McDonald is replaced by Asterix on Wednesday. But will this new trend for "acting local" appease the anti-globalisation protesters?
According to the global burger giant's website, "the Golden Arches say McDonald's in any language". The same, however, can no longer be said of the almost equally iconic Ronald McDonald.
Due to France's legendary unease with the sort of mass-market American culture that McDonald's has come to epitomise, the pasty-faced clown, famous for sporting luminous plus-fours and stripy stockings, has been sacked.
Actually, in the scheme of things, it's really nothing more than a minor demotion since Ronald will continue to act as mascot in the other 120 countries around the world where you can buy a Big Mac.
But for advocates of the multinational "one size fits all" marketing strategy, it is nothing short of a humiliation. Especially since Ronald's replacement comes in the form of that renowned champion of Gallic culture - Asterix.
It looks like those arbiters of the burger and fries philosophy at McDonald's headquarters in Oak Brook, Illinois, have been forced to stomach a helping of humble pie.
Yet they are not dining alone. As the backlash against globalisation has grown in recent years, multinational companies have increasingly been trying to play down their worldly-wise arrogance and blend in to the local scene.
The new mantra
Whereas in the 1950s, 60s and 70s, the globalised brand was king, the mantra that has been emerging over the past few years from boardrooms of the world's biggest companies is: "Think global, act local."
Or to put it in the shorthand form that inevitably attaches itself to such business beliefs - "glocalisation".
Coca Cola is one of the best-known adherents. Under its current chief executive Donald Daft, the company that once aspired to "teach the world to sing in perfect harmony" has devolved more marketing power to its national divisions.
The company has already pledged a more "glocalised" approach in Scotland, where it has traditionally played second fiddle in the fizzy drinks market to the home-grown brand Irn Bru.
Ironically, McDonald's itself had a hand in helping to preserve this status quo, offering Irn Bru instead of Coke in its Scottish outlets, until the American drinks giant objected.
Biting the hand that feeds
The story also reveals that long before the decision to drop Ronald McDonald in France, the burger giant was aware of the gains to be had from going local.
Indeed, before Ronald's unceremonious exit from the French stage, bosses there had already adopted a more patriotic approach in McDonald's adverts.
About the same time that Jose Bove, a French farmer, famously ransacked a McDonald's restaurant in Millau, southern France, the company was running a series of advertisements that poked fun at Americans and their culinary habits.
In one, a hefty cowboy said although McDonald's was born in America, its food was made in France, by French suppliers using French products.
Sometimes, the need to assimilate with local culture goes without question. For example, in India there is no beef or pork in McDonald's restaurants - so as not to offend Hindus or Muslims.
Asians not made-up
The Big Mac has been replaced with a vegetarian option: the Maharaja Mac.
It's not only multinational food and beverage firms that are waving the assorted flags of glocalisation these days.
When it started expanding outside the US, internet portal Yahoo deliberately hired teams of locals to sift through content for each of its national sites, rather than the cheaper option of taking on such work in America.
In a press interview, former Revlon cosmetics executive Daniel Gestetner recalled how the company had come a cropper by using Cindy Crawford to advertise its products in Asia.
Rivals L'Oreal used a Chinese star and "Revlon took a beating," he says.
But is the trend for "acting local" ultimately enough to appease the anti-globalisation lobby? After all, aren't these companies simply tampering with the window dressing?
"It's not really window dressing in a sense that McDonald's is showing it wants to understand the French and show an affinity with them," says John Williamson, a director of brand consultancy Wolff Olins.
"But ultimately the aim is to sell more burgers."
The progression to glocalisation mirrors the wider shift in boardroom thinking from "consistency" to "coherence" he says.
"It used to be that these global companies wanted everything they did to be the same in every country. Now the talk is of coherence - the product can be different, but it must meet certain key values that the public associate with a company."
So, although Asterix is not Ronald McDonald, he is still a fictional, cartoony character that will appeal to children.
Britain in reverse
But the local approach won't silence the critics of globalisation. In fact, it will "just get them wound up more," says Mr Williamson.
"It shows these companies are not giving up."
And, in Britain, is Ronald McDonald likely to be replaced by the likes of Dennis the Menace?
"Not at all. Nobody here buys anything because it's made in Britain.
It's almost the reverse psyche in fact: we'd rather buy a
German car or washing machine than one made here."