Ethnic Minority Trends Lead McDonald’s Mainstream Advertising

Vintage McDonald's advertisement from 1970s

First, can we take a moment for the father/son afros? I’M LOVIN’ IT!

If you watch commercials and view print ads as obsessively as we do, you’ll note the growing shift in McDonald’s advertising over the past few years. McDonald’s has frequently been clever and innovative with their advertising. Remember the “Menu Song” ads from the 80s? Genius. But is it just us or have these commercials become decidedly more hip, more urban… dare we say, more Black?

Well, the answer from McDonald’s is yes and no. Yes, their advertising has become more Black, but also more Hispanic and more Asian, due to a strategy implemented by Neil Golden, McDonald’s U.S. chief marketing officer, called “Leading with Ethnic Insights.”

“The ethnic consumer tends to set trends,” says Golden. “So they help set the tone for how we enter the marketplace.” Golden says preferences gleaned from minority consumers shape McDonald’s menu and ad choices, which are then marketed to all customers.

Golden first discovered how dramatically minority tastes can influence mainstream preferences when he oversaw McDonald’s marketing in the U.S. West in the 1990s. His team had developed products aimed at Hispanics called the “Fiesta Menu,” which included guacamole and spicy beef tortas. After the launch, the items sold well enough in Hispanic neighborhoods—but sales rose more than expected in Orange County and specifically Laguna Beach, an area that was more than 90 percent white. “The intended consumer said, ‘We sure appreciate what you’re trying to do, nice try.'” Golden recalls. “But [the Fiesta menu] overperformed in the general market.

The fast-food giant’s strategy is a departure from the way companies typically market to American households. Usually, a company works with an agency to develop advertising aimed at the general market, then turns to boutique multicultural agencies to create versions tailored to Blacks, Hispanics, or Asians. McDonald’s still creates ads specially tailored to minority groups, as it has for over 30 years, but minorities exert an increasingly influential role in its mainstream advertising as well. The company thinks they provide early exposure to new trends.

“Most companies think they can box in Latinos, box in African-Americans, and then run the general market ad,” says Steve Stoute, chief executive of Translation, which advises brands, including McDonald’s, on how to reach young adults. “McDonald’s will take an ad that could be primarily geared toward African-Americans and put a general market advertising dollar behind it.”

So, “minority” trends have become what the “majority” follows, huh? As America becomes increasingly more diverse and “minority” populations continue to grow, McDonald’s is truly ahead of the curve… minority trends ARE majority trends, friends! Ba

For the entire article, visit BusinessWeek.com.

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