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Creepy clowns are one of the ways your reputation can unexpectedly tumble, McDonald’s has found

Have you ever wondered what it would take for your firm’s reputation to nosedive without you ever doing anything? Here's a hint: steer clear of the creepy clowns phenomenon.
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Mascots are enjoying a resurgence, with marketers redeploying old characters in new ways. The M&Ms entourage have become the stars of their TV adverts and KFC brought Colonel Sanders back to the branding stage – albeit with a younger look.

From taking the role of spokesperson to giving the intended audience someone to identify with – or just give kids that twinkle in their eye – mascots are an essential part of your brand. Take for example, the introduction of the Energizer Bunny in 1989, which the battery company claimed had boosted growth by seven per cent come 1992.

But one thing Burger King’s mascot taught us is that we hate creepy things – especially if it’s a man in a huge, smiling mask sneaking into our beds or hanging outside the window. It’s not for nothing the “King” was deemed one of the creepiest fast food mascots of all time. He didn’t keep his crown for long.

Another mascot to hit the creepy shelf is Ronald McDonald – the old-school version.

Who wouldn’t be scared of a man with a tray on his head? We’re hoping the goods sported by said tray were some of the firm’s toy giveaways – and wondered long and hard how the plastic cup on the side managed to stay in place (mascots do not rely on super glue, where’s the fun in that?).

What’s more, in one of his first adverts he inspires a kid with the philosophy “don’t talk to strangers” to take some magical reappearing hamburgers.

Ronald McDonald has had a makeover since then, but it’s safe to say he’s currently in hiding. It’s not anything the company has done, rather a new craze sweeping the globe has made an impact on how we view the character. We’re talking about the sightings of numerous creepy clowns since August 2016, which the police has warned is no laughing matter.

Of course, it could all be a massive stunt for the reboot of Stephen King’s “IT”. The novelist doesn’t seem keen on the idea of roaming creepy clowns being linked to his work though. He said: “If I saw creepy clowns lurking under a lonely bridge – or peering up at me from a sewer grate, with or without balloons – I’d be scared too. I chose Pennywise the Clown for my book as the face which the monster originally shows the kiddies because children love clowns. They also fear them. Clowns with their white faces and red lips are different and grotesque compared to ‘normal’ people. Take a little kid to the circus and show him a clown, he’s more apt to scream with fear than laugh.”

Novel aside, many have taken it unto themselves to hop on board the creepy clowns bandwagon and dish out some violence, rob a few stores and prank a ton of strangers. More worrying is the amount of vigilantes that have decided to “enforce justice” – like Batman, we’re not kidding.

McDonald’s was always going to take a hit and apart from side-lining Ronal McDonald there’s not much the fast food company can do. In a recent release it actually said it would be “mindful of the current climate” by limiting its mascot’s appearance.

It just comes to show that your reputation or business image can take a nosedive through other means than social media, fraud or internal sabotage. Saying you should be prepared for anything – and we mean anything – is tough to do. Instead, maybe rethink that mascot you were planning to unveil, and have a strategic plan in place. 

Creepy clowns survival plan  as Zombieland rule #22 states: “Know your way out”

We leave you with four tips on ensuring you make it through any odd phenomenon, courtesy of Chuck Sambuchino’s “When Clowns Attack: A Survival Guide” – the book really exists.

(1) Assess: Of course, the book has you learn from the get-go why clowns frighten people, as well as why the entertainers are seemingly prone to mental instability. In much the same way, if your reputation is at risk find out why it happened, even if it means quickly delving into the world of psychology.

(2) Analyse: Sambuchino makes sure you know what types of clowns are out there, what their trademarks are and how you can avoid them if needed. We also take a master class at clown lingo. Don’t just find out what your problem is, do some research on it and know how to prevent it in the future. Diving straight to the part where you tackle the problem will get you nowhere if you can’t explain it.

(3) Defend: Much like the rules in Zombieland – cardio, don’t be a hero, limber up and beware of bathrooms – there are ways to, well, survive a clown attack. Get out there and tackle the problem. McDonald’s tried to think of its consumers by removing Ronald McDonald from the spotlight. What can you do to ensure the safety of your hard-earned reputation? What we can say is don’t wait too long to comment, or you’ll have to put up defences against your target audience as well.

(4) Protect: Knowing how to spot a clown is absolutely essential, Sambuchino explains. You might find it harder to protect your reputation against the unexpected, but once you know the risk is there, whether from experience or seeing another firm go through the chaos, monitor it.

And never think creepy clowns will work wonders for your brand.

Image: Shutterstock

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About Author

Shané Schutte

Shané Schutte is a senior reporter at Real Business, with a particular specialism in employment and business law, human resources, information technology and sales/marketing.

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