In 1971, McDonald’s threw open the gates to McDonaldland, a fantasy world populated by spokesclown Ronald McDonald and his Golden Arches-loving friends. Shepherded by advertising firm Needham, Harper & Steers, the McDonaldland ad campaign bears all the gently psychedelic traces of a massive corporation courting post-Woodstock consumers: hallucinations-cum-mascots like Mayor McCheese (the star of a recent Comics Page miniseries) and Officer Big Mac, a sunshine-pop soundtrack, and talking wastebaskets straight out of the mailbox sketch that shocked America. (Don’t you get it? The wastebasket was Haldeman!) It was inventive, ready to merchandise, and totally unlike any other sales pitch for the burger chain’s competitors.
It was also a flagrant example of copyright infringement: As eventually ruled by the United States Court Of Appeals, the McDonaldland concept bore a distinct similarity to Sid and Marty Krofft’s Saturday-morning hit H.R. Pufnstuf. Among the information divulged during the multi-year court battle between the restaurant and the TV producers: Needham, Harper & Steers had consulted with the Kroffts in the process of winning the McDonald’s account, yet denied them a payday through the nefarious strategies of a) lying about the campaign’s cancellation, b) poaching former Krofft employees, and c) adding some suspiciously familiar flourishes to the McDonaldland characters. Both a jury and the appeals court eventually found in the Kroffts’ favor, the latter declaring—in a money quote later cited by The Straight Dope—that “We do not believe that the ordinary reasonable person, let alone a child, viewing these works will even notice that Pufnstuf is wearing a cummerbund while Mayor McCheese is wearing a diplomat’s sash.” Judge for yourself—as the jury that awarded the Kroffts $50,000 did—in this side-by-side comparison.
H.R. Pufnstuf’s original run was long over by the time the case reached the appeals stage; the offending McDonaldland characters were progressively phased out of advertisements, replaced by legitimately original characters like breakfast-promoting Birdie The Early Bird or the singing, dancing, and all-too-eager-to-be-eaten Chicken McNuggets. But reminders of the unlawful copy cats lingered, in extant McDonald’s Playlands that turned Big Mac into a miniature prison and stuck Captain Crook’s decapitated head on a pike as a warning to any potential fry thieves. Replaced in the 1990s by plastic slides and ball pits, relics from these playgrounds still turn up on eBay, like this Mayor McCheese statue which can be yours for the equivalent of 2,750 McPick 2 deals.
The original McDonaldland TV ads have left their greasy fingerprints all over YouTube, where you can also find the promotional film above. Produced by the company responsible for the slides, swings, and sculptures of McDonald’s Playland, it’s essentially a catalog of Mickey D’s crimes against H.R. Pufnstuf and the Living Island. For a literal catalog of McPlagiarism, Flickr user Jason Liebig has uploaded this informative promo packet.