There’s nothing revelatory about the idea that ethnic foods are becoming more popular with mainstream consumers, or that consumers are seeking out more exotic flavours in food and drink. Witness Mintel’s flavour predictions for 2010, which touted traditionally ethnic ingredients such as cardamom, hibiscus, cupuaçu and rose water as emerging flavours of choice for US consumers.
Now, McDonald’s has taken ethnic marketing one step further, using African Americans, Hispanics and Asians to shape products and communications that the company then rolls out to its white, middle-class audiences.
According to McDonald’s US CMO, Neil Golden: “The ethnic consumer tends to set trends…So they help set the tone for how we enter the marketplace”.
While the fast food giant still uses specialist agencies to create communications tailored to minority ethnic audiences – particularly African Americans - it then increasingly puts mass-market spend behind them. A recent article in Business Week examines what it calls McDonald’s ’minority-shapes-majority’ strategy in more detail, and is well worth a read.
McDonald's recruitment ad targets African-American communities
The traditional model of marketing to minority ethnic communities has revolved around one of two things. In one, a mainstream company tailors its communications – and in rare cases, its product – to so-called niche audience using the services of a specialist agency. In the other, a specialist manufacturer finds their success in appealing to minority markets can translate to the mainstream, and adopts their communications accordingly.
McDonald’s decision to reverse the dynamic of ethnic marketing may not seem like a great leap forward at first sight, but it’s a strategy that could have a dramatic impact on FMCG markets in both the US and the UK.
Inevitably, success will see imitators riding the wake of the Golden Arches in the US. But with changing tastes, social trends and culture over the past decades showing that the ‘salad bowl’ analogy is becoming as ripe for the UK as the US, there’s an opportunity for the real fast movers to remove the ‘niche’ from ethnic marketing – and potentially find themselves ahead of the trend.
For those interested, the Business Week article can be found here – and is well worth a read.