Down on the Clown

It was a seminal moment. For the first time, breaking all convention, Ronald turned to the TV cameras and addressed himself to his viewers directly. It had never been done before, and it set off a revolution the consequences of which we still struggle to fight. When Ronald Reagan ended his presidential debate with Jimmy Carter in 1979 with “Are you better off than you were four years ago?”, his media savvy changed mass politics forever.

But long before that, another Ronald messed with mass communications no less indelibly, paving the way for today’s politicians and pundits. Appropriately, the first Ronald was a clown. In 1963, sixteen years before Reagan’s fateful piece to camera, Ronald McDonald broke every rule in advertising when he turned to the lens and stunned children by speaking to them directly, saying:

“Here I am kids. Hey, isn’t watching TV fun? Especially when you got delicious McDonald’s hamburgers. I know we’re going to be friends too cause I like to do everything boys and girls like to do. Especially when it comes to eating those delicious McDonald’s hamburgers.”

It’s easy both to wince at how crass this sounds, and to overlook its audacity. With entire TV channels premised on direct marketing to children, it seems impossible that there might have been a time where kids were considered anything other than shorter, louder, more pestering versions of adult consumers. But it wasn’t always thus. It took a canny cabal of admen to tap the pockets of a newly affluent generation of youngsters. They wanted to redefine the frontiers of what advertising in television age could be. And they succeeded. Continue reading “Down on the Clown”

The Value of Nothing – a preview

Here’s a bit of a plug for the new book – out in the UK in December, in the US in January. I was lucky enough to get to make this book trailer with Scott Hamilton Kennedy, whose documentary about the South Central Los Angeles farm, The Garden was spectacular, well deserving the Oscar nod that it got (and it was a particularly good year to be nominated ). Continue reading “The Value of Nothing – a preview”