There have been some seriously weird mascots for fast food restaurants over the years. There was The Noid from Domino’s commercials who was a basically high-strung maniac desperately trying to prevent pizzas from being delivered on time. There were the nightmarish Spongmonkeys from those Quiznos commercials that should have just never existed. But among these unsettling fast food characters, none have existed longer or been quite as prominent as the Hamburglar, the scourge of McDonaldland.
The Hamburglar has seen many different iterations, some of them creepier than others. But the question remains: why did McDonald’s ever feel it necessary to put a criminal glutton into the innocent and playful world of McDonaldland? That is something only the executives at McDonald’s and their contracted advertising agency can definitively answer.
While nearly everyone who has ever visited a McDonald’s restaurant has heard of the Hamburglar, there are many parts of the Hamburglar’s history that have been all but forgotten. For instance, did you know that the Hamburglar once had a partner in crime? Did you know that he once went by another name? Do you remember a time when the Hamburglar was a horrifying old man instead of a mischievous goofball? I hope you don’t, but I’m going to remind you anyway.
The Creation of the Hamburglar
The legacy of the Hamburglar started in the 1970s when McDonald’s hired marketing agency Needham, Harper & Steers to create an ad campaign to promote their new PlayPlaces, which were to be small playground annexes attached to the restaurants where kids could run around and rub snot all over each other after scarfing down McNuggets. Naturally, there had to be some sort of lore created around these PlayPlaces, and so the concept of McDonaldland was born.
McDonaldland was a fictional place that was home to several characters who have since become quite famous, and some who have been forgotten over the years. Some of these original characters included Officer Big Mac, Mayor McCheese, Grimace, the Fry Kids, the Hamburglar, Captain Crook, and, of course, Ronald McDonald. This ad campaign, though strange in many ways, proved to be wildly successful and had kids begging their parents to go to McDonald’s PlayPlaces, which were covered with images of these characters.
Obviously, Ronald McDonald became so popular that he remains the face of the fast food chain to this day. But every hero needs a villain, and thwarting the Hamburglar in his quests to steal hamburgers became one of Ronald’s main priorities. The Hamburglar’s character has undergone many changes throughout his tenure but, at his core, he’s a fiendish thief who’s hell-bent on getting just a single bite of some McDonald’s pink slime.
However, while the Hamburglar’s name is extremely fitting for his profession, he once went by a different name. And it’s easy to see why McDonald’s decided to make the change.
The Lone Jogger
That’s right, before the Hamburglar was the Hamburglar, he went by the name “Lone Jogger.” Unsurprisingly, that name didn’t last very long. Whoever thought up this name was completely missing the point. A “Lone Jogger” sounds like someone who’s trying to get in shape while all of their friends are stuffing down Big Macs and Egg McMuffins. “Lone Jogger” sounds like the name of a Western-themed motivational fitness video. It was a bad name and I fully support the change.
While the character was never really referred to as the “Lone Jogger,” there was a certain commercial from the ‘70s that featured him running into the scene, ripping open his cape exposing a t-shirt that read “Lone Jogger” underneath, and making off with a tray of McDonald’s burgers. The whole thing seemed a little too similar to a perverted flasher forcing you to look at their genitalia. Weird.
As if that wasn’t creepy enough, the “Lone Jogger” did not resemble the pudgy and cute Hamburglar of today. Instead, he was a creepy old man.
The Hamburglar Was an Old Creep
Yes, the first iteration of the Hamburglar was pure nightmare fuel. He was portrayed as an old man with a pointy nose and white hair. Had I been a child in the 1970s, the idea of having an old man attack you for your hamburgers would be enough to keep me miles away from any McDonald’s establishment. I just don’t know what Needham, Harper & Steers was thinking when they came up with the character design for the Lone Jogger or what McDonald’s was thinking when they let that disturbing creature represent their brand on national television.
Luckily, by the 1980s, the sinister old man was replaced by a more child-friendly Hamburglar. However, the motivation remained the same: he needed those burgers and he was going to get them one way or another. But he wasn’t the only thief in the McDonaldland universe, he as once part of a most nefarious duo.
Captain Crook, sometimes just referred to as The Captain, was another troublemaker in the McDonaldland universe. He seemed to be in cahoots with the Hamburglar and was often responsible for translating the Hamburglar’s incomprehensible gibberish. Captain Crook wasn’t interested in hamburgers, though. He was after those Filet-O-Fish sandwiches.
The character of Captain Crook was pretty clearly a rip-off of Captain Hook from Peter Pan. He wore a black pirate hat, black boots, a red coat and white gloves, pretty much the exact same outfit as Captain Hook. The Captain made his last appearance in a 1990 VHS video special called The Adventures of Ronald McDonald: McTreasure Island and was never seen again.
Around the time that Captain Crook was on his way out, the people at McDonald’s decided that the Hamburglar’s unintelligible sputterings had to be replaced with an actual catchphrase. And that catchphrase has stuck around to this day.
In the 1980s, the Hamburglar became less criminal and more whimsical. He still wanted those delicious burgers, but he didn’t seem quite as willing to violate the legal code of McDonaldland to get them. With his new persona, he also got a new appearance, which included bright red hair, a short hot, a tie, and gloves.
However, perhaps the biggest change in the Hamburglar’s character was the fact that instead of making random guttural noises, he would say, “robble, robble.” This would become the Hamburglar’s signature rallying cry that has persisted to this day.
But that wasn’t the only makeover the Hamburglar got. In 2015, the Hamburglar was portrayed in a series of commercials by a real man (wearing no suit) who was nothing less than infuriating.
The Hamburglar Was a Stupid Hipster
In an effort to promote their Steakhouse Sirloin Third Pound Burger in 2015, McDonald’s ran a series of ads that featured the Hamburglar in a completely new way. He was a real guy with five o’clock shadow wearing a tailored jacket over a loose-fitting shirt, the kind of guy you might see walking out of a coffee shop in Brooklyn lighting up a clove cigarette. If that guy tried to steal my burger, I’d be neither amused nor afraid. I’d probably feel an uncontrollable urge to kick him in the family jewels.
Interestingly enough, a lot of people felt sexually attracted to this new version of the Hamburglar, so McDonald’s may have succeeded in attracting horny hipsters to their restaurants. Still, the campaign died out not long after it started (to the relief of most people), and the Hamburglar has gone into hiding since.
Will we see another iteration of the Hamburglar in the upcoming years? I hope so, just so long as it’s not some weird, e-boy, Doomer version of the Hamburglar. Give me the goofy, semi-lovable Hamburglar with red hair and a cheery demeanor and let’s call it a day.