CHICAGO - Retire Ronald McDonald? No way.
That's the message McDonald's Corp.'s CEO Jim Skinner gave Thursday to the red-haired clown's critics who say the cartoon promotes unhealthy eating and should go the way of the Marlboro Man and Joe Camel.
"The answer is no," Skinner told a room full of shareholders who gathered for a meeting at the company's headquarters in the Chicago suburb of Oak Brook, Ill.
"He is a force for good," Skinner said, adding that the nearly 50-year-old clown is an ambassador for the McDonald's brand and its Ronald McDonald House Charities. "He communicates effectively with children and families around balanced, active lifestyles. He does not hawk food."
Shareholders applauded Skinner. And they unleashed a chorus of boos when representatives from the advocacy group Corporate Accountability International requested the famous icon be shelved — for good.
"Ronald McDonald is a pied piper drawing youngsters all over the world to food that is high in fat, sodium and calories," said Alfred David Klinger, a retired Chicago physician who volunteers with the organization. "On the surface, Ronald is there to give children enjoyment in all sorts of way with toys, games and food. But Ronald McDonald is dangerous, sending insidious messages to young people."
The Boston organization, which calls itself a nonprofit corporate watchdog, has spent the past two months mounting a "Retire Ronald" campaign.
So far it has received support from about 10,000 people, said senior organizer Deborah Lapidus.