What's missing from Denis Weil's newly redesigned McDonald's? It's more like who: Ronald McDonald, Ad Age's second-greatest ad icon of the 20th century, seems to have vanished. Activists have called for Ronald to retire (and not because he now clashes with the decor), but McDonald's, when asked, swears he's still got a vital role to play. CEO James Skinner gave Ronald the dreaded vote of confidence at the 2010 annual shareholder meeting. Sure, he's got his charity work (Ronald McDonald House Charities), the occasional Happy Meal box cameo, and live appearances. If he could just book an ironic Super Bowl ad, he could be the next Betty White. McDonald's won't use him in national spots, so he's moved on to plan B. At Sundance this year, he played a criminal in Logorama, an animated short satirizing our brand-saturated culture. Maybe Ronald and the No. 1 icon, the Marlboro Man, are planning their comebacks by hooking up with Sylvester Stallone. Look for them in The Expendables 2.
A version of this article appeared in the October 2010 issue of Fast Company magazine.