Taco Bell is dropping the name of an unlikely clown to promote its new breakfast menu: Ronald McDonald.

The fast-food chain began airing ads Thursday that feature everyday men who happen to have the same name as the McDonald's mascot known for his bright red hair and yellow jumpsuit. The marketing campaign is intended to promote Taco Bell's new breakfast menu, which features novelties like a waffle taco.

The chain, owned by Yum Brands Inc. of Louisville, Ky., is looking to boost sales by opening most of its roughly 6,000 U.S. stores a few hours earlier, at 7 a.m., starting this week.

But Taco Bell has a long way to go to catch up with McDonald's, the No. 1 player in breakfast with about 31 percent of the category, according to market researcher Technomic. Egg McMuffins and other items have been consistent sellers for McDonald's over the years, with breakfast accounting for about 20 percent of the company's U.S. sales.

By comparison, a Yum executive has said breakfast accounted for just 4 percent of sales when it was being tested at Taco Bell stores in select markets.

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That was before national marketing began, however, and Taco Bell president Brian Niccol said in a phone interview that the goal was to get the figure to a level "much greater than that." Niccol concedes the real-life Ronald McDonalds were paid for their appearances in the ads, but he insists their enthusiastic reactions to the food were real.

"All of them resoundingly loved the food," he said.

Taco Bell's ad agency, Deutsch LA, found around 400 men and women with the name Ronald McDonald, Ronnie McDonald or some variation, Niccol said. A couple of dozen were selected.

The men show their approval of the food with comments like, "It's not messy" and "It has everything I like."

Tiny print at the end of the ad notes that, "These Ronald McDonalds are not affiliated with McDonald's Corporation and were individually selected as paid endorsers of Taco Bell Breakfast."