HOLD FOR RELEASE UNTIL 12:01 A.M. EDT SATURDAY APRIL 19. THIS PHOTO MAY NOT BE PUBLISHED, BROADCAST OR POSTED ONLINE BEFORE 12:01 A.M. EDT SATURDAY - FILE - This file frame grab from video provided by Taco Bell via Taylor Strategy shows Ronald McDonald of Oak Ridge, N.C., in a Taco Bell commercial. The fast-food chain began airing ads last month that feature everyday men who happen to have the same name as the McDonald's mascot.  (AP Photo/Taco Bell, File)

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HOLD FOR RELEASE UNTIL 12:01 A.M. EDT SATURDAY APRIL 19. THIS PHOTO MAY NOT BE PUBLISHED, BROADCAST OR POSTED ONLINE BEFORE 12:01 A.M. EDT SATURDAY - FILE - This file frame grab from video provided by Taco Bell via Taylor Strategy shows Ronald McDonald of Oak Ridge, N.C., in a Taco Bell commercial. The fast-food chain began airing ads last month that feature everyday men who happen to have the same name as the McDonald's mascot. (AP Photo/Taco Bell, File)

Ronald McDonald cashes in on familiar name

The Associated PressBy DAWN 
DeCWIKIEL-KANE

News & Record of Greensboro

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GREENSBORO – It’s not easy being Ronald McDonald.

Imagine the ribbing when you share a name with the clown mascot of the McDonald’s restaurant chain.

But for 25 Ronald McDonalds from around the country – including one from Oak Ridge – that famous name finally has paid off.

Thanks to their name, they are appearing in new television commercials that introduce Taco Bell’s breakfast menu.

“I am getting texts and phone calls and emails from people I haven’t spoken to in years,” said Ronald Steven McDonald of Oak Ridge, whose friends call him Steve.

He appears prominently in one of three versions of the ad and in a group scene in another.

“I am Ronald McDonald, and I am from Oak Ridge, North Carolina,” he said. He’s later shown eating a Waffle Taco and saying, “Mmmm.”

The ad introduces men from cities across the nation, all named “Ronald McDonald.”

“It’s not surprising these guys are loving Taco Bell’s new Waffle Taco,” the narrator says. “What is surprising is who they are.”

Taco Bell designed the commercials to take a bite out of McDonald’s hold on the fast-food breakfast market.

Since the ads launched on March 27, they have gone viral in social media.

The ads and a behind-the-scenes video on their filming have received nearly 2.5 million views on You Tube, a Taco Bell spokesperson said. That doesn’t count people who have seen them on TV and in movie theaters.

Ronald “Steve” McDonald, 43, a medical group administrator and the married father of three, describes the experience as exciting, amazing and humbling.

It happened quickly. In February, a talent agency called, saying producers were looking for people with unique names.

“I thought it was a prank call, a scam,” McDonald said.

The talent agency contacted more than 400 men named Ronald McDonald. They whittled the number to 25. In March, they flew the men to California, where the ads were filmed.

One other man came from North Carolina, from Whispering Pines in Moore County.

Once on location, they finally learned why they were there, Ronald “Steve” McDonald said.

The agency that created the ads, Deutsch Los Angeles, brought the men together to taste such items as the Waffle Taco and A.M. Crunchwrap.

“It was surprisingly good,” McDonald said.

A Taco Bell spokesperson says each man was paid for his “honest testimonial” but declined to say how much.

When the commercials launched, McDonald was one of two Ronald McDonalds at Taco Bell headquarters in Irvine, Calif., engaging with the online social community through real-time video responses.

The filming gave the men a chance to share stories about growing up with the name “Ronald McDonald.”

“You develop thick skin,” Ronald “Steve” McDonald said.

His mother liked the name Ronald; it had nothing to do with the McDonald’s clown, he said. He went by Ronald until his sophomore year in high school, but he decided to be called Steve when the McDonald’s clown became a popular icon.

“Finally, my name is something to feel proud of,” he said. “My mom said, ‘I told you so.’”

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Information from: News & Record, http://www.news-record.com