10 Untold Truths About Fast Food Mascots
Fast food mascots act as bells to Pavlov’s dog with their bright colors and friendly faces, triggering mouth-watering cravings. From those that worked well and are still used today, to those that frankly didn’t make much sense, all of these mascots possess some interesting untold truths.
10. Wendy’s Given Name was Melinda
The long-standing mascot for Wendy’s has been a girl named Wendy, the freckle-faced, smiling, 8-year-old girl with red braids. She is modelled after the fourth child of the founder, Dave Thomas. As a young girl, Dave’s daughter, Melinda Lou, had some difficulty with pronunciation. In particular, R’s and L’s were hard for her to articulate. As a result, it was tough for the little tyke to say her own name. To help her out, she was given the nickname “Wendy”, which ended up leading to the name of a now widely beloved, square-pattied burger chain. The image of Wendy is in Melinda Lou’s likeness. The Wendy’s advertising strategy hasn’t just focused on their mascot through the years. Founder Dave Thomas appeared as himself in more than 800 Wendy’s ads, usually speaking to the camera about the quality and integrity of his chain. He appeared in more television commercials than any other founder throughout history. After Thomas’s passing, a few different ad strategies were tried out. In 2012, the chain introduced Red, a more grown-up riff on the iconic Wendy’s girl image. Portrayed by Morgan Smith, the character resembled an adult version of the Wendy’s girl and used the catchphrase, “Now that’s better”. She appears in various environments – grocery stores, offices and backseats of cars – with a mission to help people take their lunches from sad to spectacular, directing them to Wendy’s for their needs.
9. Colonel Sanders was the Wendy’s Guy’s Boss
Colonel Sanders is one of the most recognizable fast food mascots, with his iconic white hair, moustache and beard, crisp white suit and black necktie. He depicts southern charm, traditional cooking and hospitality. It’s rare that a company founder is also the full-on mascot of the company, imitated by famous comedians and appearing as a pop culture reference all over the media. Even after selling the company in the mid-1960s, Sanders remained a brand ambassador for KFC and is still used as the symbol for hot and fresh KFC today, long after his passing. Colonel Sanders himself founded KFC in the early 1950s, after selling fried chicken from a roadside stand during the Great Depression. In 1962, multiple locations in Indiana were having trouble staying afloat and needed a bit of help. Sanders offered a job to none other than Dave Thomas, the future owner of Wendy’s, and the man who appeared in their commercials until his death. Thomas worked directly under Sanders, tasked with turning around the failing locations in exchange for a 45 percent stake in the restaurants. Among Dave Thomas’s changes to the locations were paring down the options on the menus as well as creating a giant, revolving bucket of chicken to use as a sign. The ideas worked and instead of sticking around, Thomas sold back his stake in the company and opened up the first-ever Wendy’s restaurant in Columbus, Ohio.
8. Ronald McDonald Used to Dispense Burgers From his Belt
The early design of the now iconic fast food mascot, Ronald McDonald, was a tad less charming and certainly less effective than his current day incarnation. Willard Scott was a weatherman, radio host and children’s television performer. He was asked to portray the first-ever Ronald McDonald when the company decided to create a new mascot in the 1960s. The character was startling to say the least and amazing to say the most. Sometimes bad ideas are the most treasured memories for all of us. The clown appeared in television ads, with a McDonald’s cup for a nose, a full food tray perched on top of his head in place of a hat and red facepaint in the shape of a gaping smile that didn’t just cover the area around his mouth, but climbed up the entire lower half of his face. He had a maniacal look on his face and dry, straw-like hair poking out from under his tray hat. The strangest part of the character was his food belt, that held a drink, burger and fries and could dispense an unlimited number of hamburgers, replacing each one that Ronald pulled away. Sometimes, the clown was featured on roller-skates, or feeding hamburgers from his belt to random children on the street. The most interesting and impressive part of all this is how little fear the children showed when meeting Ronald, despite his alarming appearance and disposition.
7. Chuck E. Cheese was Almost a Coyote
You know how it goes. In the beginning, there was a coyote. Then, there was a rat. Or something like that. The creator of Chuck E. Cheese was, interestingly, Nolan Bushnell. Bushnell is also the founder of Atari. The chain was his idea for making games more profitable by offering them only at a location – in this case, a location attached to a restaurant with an animatronic animal band and really, really good pizza. Originally, Bushnell planned on calling the joint Coyote Pizza and using a coyote as the mascot (which would have been an entirely different vibe for old Chuck). The story goes that a coyote costume was ordered, with the intent to create a robot interior and make it into an animatronic character. When the costume arrived, it was not a coyote but rather a giant rat. Bushnell decided to take what the universe had given him and he renamed the restaurant/arcade to Rick Rat’s Pizza. Not the best idea for a pizza spot to name itself after the grossest subway commuters (but what a nice foreshadowing to Pizza Rat)! To rectify the off-putting situation, the name was changed one more time, to Chuck E. Cheese. The original Chuck was much more grisly in appearance, with a habit of smoking cigars and friends who referred to him as, “a jolly good rodent”. With a thick New Jersey accent and drooping eyelids, he was a far cry from the hip young mouse (yes, Chuck morphed into a mouse) who jams on a guitar today.
6. The Chick-Fil-A Eat More Chikin Cows are Real
When a video was uploaded to Facebook in March 2019 of a real-life cow crossing traffic and heading straight for a Chick-Fil-A, the cow mascots received some free publicity. The Indiana cow seemed intent on dining at the poultry place, tailed by cops and enthralled passersby. It’s possible that the cow thought it might be one of Chick-Fil-A’s Cow Appreciation Days, when they give free entrees to folks dressed up as cows (or, presumably, real cows). While this cow gave realism and legitimacy to the Chick-Fil-A Cows, some have found them disturbing in the past. The idea of a group of farm animals pleading with humans to eat their farm animal friends instead is a bit gross to some – but you can’t argue that it sticks in your head, like it or not. The cows first appeared in 1995 on a billboard in Atlanta, featuring two cows, one stacked on top of the other, painting the words, “Eat Mor Chikin,” to be seen by passing cars. The mascots were a hit and have appeared as plushies, featured in a “cowlendar”, on water towers and with their slogan splashed across “cow cars”. One of the edgiest mascot campaigns that actually worked, these cows work tirelessly to drive consumers away from beef patties and towards chicken sandwiches and products.
5. Hamburglar Used to be Called “Lone Jogger”
In 1971, Hamburglar first emerged as a tricky older man who stole burgers to feed his super-sized appetite for McDonald’s food. He wore a white t-shirt with the words, “Lone Jogger” on the front and occasionally he would be referred to as if that was his name in the television ads. It’s never quite come out why he was referred to as such, but it must have something to do with him being on a solo mission to race around and hoard hamburgers and other treats. He spoke in an incoherent gibberish, muttering continuously when interacting with other characters in McDonaldland. As the 80s approached, the character was revised to be much less intimidating and way softer. Instead of depicting him as a real older man, he was shown as a cartoony, younger character who had an obsession with hamburgers, but wasn’t as wont to rip them away from other people as they were trying to enjoy their food. His catchphrase became, “Robble, robble!” Instead of the constant rambling of his previous incarnation. The Hamburglar was phased out of the company’s promotional characters in the early 2000s, along with Birdie, Grimace and the bunch. There was a grown-up, sexier version depicted in the 2015 campaigns for the Sirloin Third Pound burger, with a hip look and portrayed by a fit actor with a bit of scruff. The revision was not child-friendly and didn’t appeal much to adults, so it didn’t stick around for long – but it was certainly less disturbing than the original Lone Jogger.
4. The Short-Lived Quizno’s Spongmonkeys Just Wanted Attention
While a lot of fast food mascot ideas are meant to have longevity and become iconic images for customers to remind them of their favorite lunch spots, the Quizno’s Spongmonkeys were really just meant to be weird. In the mid 2000s, these strange, deformed rodents with bulging eyes appeared in fancy hats to perform songs about Quizno’s. They originated as characters by web animator Joel Veitch, who made a video featuring the Spongmonkeys in which they sang about how much they liked the moon, cheese and fluffy animals, among other things. The tunes were performed with one Spongmonkey singing in a high-pitched, grating voice and the other strumming an acoustic guitar. Quizno’s ads featured lyrics describing all the good things about Quizno’s and their sandwiches, such as the toasty warmth of the bread and the pepper bar available to patrons. At the time, people had some questions – mainly about who thought it was a good idea to use smushed-up, screeching rodents to advertise delicious sammies. Chief Marketing Officer Trey Hall responded with the explanation that since Quizno’s doesn’t have as large of a budget compared to their sandwich chain competitors, they need to go for dramatic impact in their ads. The idea was to be strange, stand out and maybe even confuse people. That way, people would talk to each other about the ads, gaining more momentum and traction for the Quizno’s campaign.
3. Grimace Used to Frighten Children
Grimace, the large, purple, blobby character who resided in McDonaldland with Hamburglar, Mayor McCheese, Birdie and the McNugget Buddies, wasn’t always so huggable and inviting. The original Grimace was created in 1971 and was intended to be a villain, known as Evil Grimace. The creature had four arms to grasp milkshakes (which he enjoyed hoarding, stealing and slurping greedily). He had huge, googley eyes beneath large, dark, bushy eyebrows that were set in a permanent frown. He acted as the nemesis to the heroic Ronald McDonald in the television commercials. Realizing their mistake when children expressed that they were afraid of Evil Grimace, McDonald’s changed him to a softer, two-armed blobwith a kinder face and friendlier disposition. He is further softened by his slow wit and frequent use of the word “duh”.
2. Jack from Jack in the Box Meditates For 8 Hours Every Morning
In a Reddit AMA, Jack was questioned by fans on various aspects of his life. One fan was curious about how long it takes a human-bodied man with a ping pong clown head to get ready in the morning. Jack’s answer was that he often meditates for an 8 hour period upon waking, then he quickly takes a two minute shower and dresses himself. The AMA was fruitful inmany ways, including Jack’s elaborate answer to how the curly fries at Jack in the Box get to be so tasty. He claimed that it involved not only seasoning, but also coaching the fries and using positive reinforcement as needed. He also divulged that he was born with the cone-shaped hat he wears already attached to his head, also mentioning that he isn’t even sure what kind of hat it is. With a violent past (Jack blew up the corporate execs who nixed his original character, upon his return to the chain) and a taste for revenge (one commercial featured Jack aggressively chasing and force-feeding a man who called his restaurant “junk in the box”, it’s a bit surprising that Jack claims to meditate so much. Who would have thought that 8 hours of centring could prove so ineffective? It may be that his head is a giant ping pong ball – perhaps the effects of meditation on the brain are different if you have a head situation as unusual as Jacks’.
1. The Burger King’s Creep Factor was a Slow, Intentional Process
The Burger King is infamously creepy, with a large, plastic head, lack of expression and at times reckless and unpredictable physicality. The brand seemingly embraced the King’s creepiness with wide-open arms, using the power of creep to spread advertising through water cooler talk and the stuff of nightmares. The King wasn’t always a weirdo, though. He didn’t always have immovable facial features and hair, with a human body and a very strange life with lots of seemingly inappropriate interactions. Originally, The Burger King was a small-scale cartoon, who appeared on signsperched on top of a burger, grasping a drink. He was tiny enough to fit on top of the bun and was dwarfed by the cup he held with his whole arm wrapped around it. Smiling and unassuming, with a yellow crown perched jauntily on top of his head, he first emerged in the mid-50s and was sweet, colorful and not at all creepy. This inspired the Kurger Bing, a children’s advertising mascot that appeared as an animation. In the mid-70s, the Kurger Bing was replaced by The Marvelous Magical Burger King, a live-action character without a mask, but who resembled the Tudor-style creepy king. A Burger King head that had been sold in the 70s was recovered by the advertising team in the early 2000s, inspiring them to recreate the character with a mask head instead of makeup and hair on the actor. The King was intentionally placed in unexpected locations, including people’s beds, behind doors and other spots where it was easy to sneak up on people. The King would then offer them Burger King nosh, to which they would, shockingly, not respond by calling the cops.