By Steve Gorman
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Two of America's biggest commercial brands - discount retailer Target and fast-food chain McDonald's - have taken steps to tamp down hysteria stemming from a recent spate of creepy clown sightings in the run-up to Halloween at the end of this month.
Target (TGT.N) decided last week to winnow down its assortment of clown masks and costumes available for sale in U.S. stores and online "given the current environment," company spokesman Joshua Thomas said on Monday.
Although Target received some isolated consumer comments about scary clown accessories, the decision to pull some masks from inventories stemmed from "a conversation internally about how we can respond to the situation at hand," Thomas told Reuters.
The clown-mask culling, limited to one in-store product item and about 10 different selections online, affected a "very tiny" portion of Target's overall Halloween merchandise, Thomas added.
Target declined to specify exactly which products were pulled but said those kept in stock reflected a more traditional, less threatening image of happy, cheerful clowns.
Similarly, McDonald's (MCD.N) and its franchise owners have cut back in the number of public appearances being made by performers dressed up as the chain's trademark hamburger-happy clown Ronald McDonald during the past two weeks, according to the company.
The fast-food chain, in a statement, cited "the current climate around clown sightings in communities" for its decision.
Reports of menacing individuals dressed as clowns or wearing clown masks began surfacing in late August around Greenville, South Carolina, and have since spread to several other states, perplexing police and unnerving parents across the country.
Clowns have been reported spotted lurking near wooded areas or on dark roads, and even driving in cars, some brandishing knives or waving wads of money at children. The phenomenon has created a stir on social media, with the hashtag #IfISeeAClown and @ClownSightings generating a large following on Twitter.
(Additional reporting by Lisa Baertlein in Los Angeles; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)