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As McDonald's Corp. (NYSE: MCD - News) morphs into a more upscale chain, there's one person you won't see munching salads, sipping a cappuccino and surfing the Web: Ronald McDonald, age 48.
While Ronald still plays an ambassador role, he isn't tied to the menu, says spokeswoman Danya Proud. Even as mascots like Burger King's King shill on TV and the Web, Ronald has ceded the limelight to budding singers and dancers who sell mochas and frappes -- not Happy Meals.
"We haven't been seeing a lot of Ronald McDonald," said Tim Calkins, a marketing professor at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. "They're beginning to appeal to much more sophisticated individuals."
Amid intensifying concern over surging obesity rates, the chain has distanced itself from its fast-food origins, adding cafe-friendly items such as fruit smoothies and dolling up restaurants with free WiFi and padded seats. While the shift helped to revive sales growth last year -- McDonald's has credited McCafe coffee for revenue growth in six of the past seven quarters -- the new adults-only ambiance leaves little room for Ronald.
"He kind of represents the old McDonald's, with the high- fat content foods that are kind of falling out of favor," said Bob Dorfman, the executive creative director at Baker Street Advertising in San Francisco. "It's clear that McDonald's is advertising coffee, they're not advertising burgers."