Nobody likes CEOs anymore. The new pop-culture version of the chief executive is a scheming do-nothing, a greedy, self-aggrandizing, heartless bastard. If there was ever a time when CEOs could attain the ultimate hero status—that is, become celebrity endorsers—surely it has passed. Or has it? Actually there’s a new ad out with a chief executive star. It’s Donald Trump, of all people, shilling for McDonald’s. You can see the spot here, via Ads.com.
The ad: We find Trump in his skyscraper office, addressing someone we can’t see. He’s saying that he’s put together a lot of impressive deals in his time, but whoever he’s talking to has done him one better. “A Big ‘N Tasty for just a dollar? How do you do it? What’s your secret?” he asks, holding one of the burgers. Now we see who he’s talking to: It’s Grimace, the blobbish, purple innocent from McDonald’s campaigns of the past, who blinks cutely at Trump’s query. There’s a quick head-on pitch for the low-cost sandwich. Then Trump and his new friend gaze out the window. “Together, Grimace, we could own this town.”
The mystery of Grimace. Before we get to Trump, let’s pause on his potential partner. Grimace is one of the characters associated with McDonaldland, a sort of children’s fantasy world where the unstated function of every being is to sell burgers. Ads based on the McDonaldland idea began airing in 1971 and featured characters like Hamburglar (a thief who wears a prison-stripes outfit), Mayor McCheese (who has a giant cheeseburger head), and so on.
Somebody once asked Cecil Adams, who writes the syndicated “Straight Dope” column, for the gist on Grimace, and the answer mostly consisted of the burger chain’s official statements: “Grimace personifies the child in everyone. … Everyone loves Grimace because of his innocent loving nature.” A subsequent Adams column addressed the somewhat embarrassing origins of McDonaldland, which seems to owe so much to the characters from the old kids’ show H.R. Pufnstuf that Mickey D had to fork over a cash settlement to Pufnstuf creators Sid and Marty Krofft.
In any case, Grimace is easily the most appealing character in McDonaldland. But one question lingers in the air: Why the hell is he called Grimace? Were “Wince,” “Flinch,” and “Involuntary Facial Expression Connoting Pain and Revulsion” taken? Is there a subtle acknowledgment here of a rational person’s response to the idea of eating a McDonald’s burger?
But I digress.
The mystery of Trump. Why is Trump back, yet again, in our faces? You would think that if we’re all fed up with CEOs, then this guy is the last person we’d want to hear from. But actually, maybe the disgrace of the 1990s class of CEOs has somehow worked in Trump’s favor: We’re ready to bring back the 1980s greed-heads.
Sure, they were an abrasive and awful group, but there was actually a curious sort of honesty to the 1980s version of corporate greed. The 1990s honchos posed as benign do-gooders, revolutionaries who would make you a cool gadget and pump up your retirement nest egg—they were on your side. The 1980s Masters of the Universe made no promise other than to amass more money than you could ever comprehend. They were so over-the-top as to be practically caricatures, and this had two advantages. The first is that you didn’t have to worry about whether they were on your side. They clearly weren’t. The second is that they were so ridiculous, you knew you didn’t really have to take them seriously. Just look at Trump’s hairstyle, and you know everything you need to know: Do not do business with this man.
But do feel free to enjoy his hilarious antics on television and in the tabloids. And this is why he’s the one CEO we’re willing to tolerate. Trump can’t hurt you. He isn’t even real. He’s there for your enjoyment, essentially a cartoon character—just like his sweet pal Grimace.