LOS ANGELES: McDonald's, the fast food restaurant chain, is increasingly using cross-cultural insights to inform its marketing strategy, reflecting the profound social changes reshaping the US population.

Speaking at the ANA's Multicultural Marketing and Diversity Conference, Marlena Peleo-Lazar, the company's chief creative officer, reported that multicultural shoppers are at the very heart of its communications strategy. [The full report is available here.]

"Here's the news: the ethnic plans are the foundation [of our marketing program], and influential in shaping that plan, and it is endorsed by the entire system," she said.

Fully 40% of McDonald's business, and many of its most loyal customers, are now drawn from the Hispanic, Afro-American and Asian-American demographics.

As population growth is almost entirely attributable to these segments, their importance is likely to grow further, too.

"We are continuing to invest in the fastest-growing segments of our business: our ethnic consumers. We ensure that it is never an afterthought. In fact, incorporating an ethnic perspective actually begins our marketing process," Peleo-Lazar said.

McDonald's is not walking away from messaging that reaches out directly to different demographics. "Of course, we do produce and run targeted creative for each of our ethnic segments," Peleo-Lazar said.

This is evidenced by the McCafé range. Asian-Americans, for example, are "very sophisticated" drinkers and particularly interested in espresso, while café con leche has been introduced in various cities specifically for Hispanics, and luxuriant coffee flavour combinations have been rolled out with African-Americans in mind.

However, the company says commonalities are playing an enhanced role, with culturally-relevant insights coming into play at the very start of the process, and often informing ads with an appeal cutting across the entire American population.

"We ensure that a significant portion of our general market, English-language creative begins with a culturally-relevant insight," Peleo-Lazar said. "We have communication that is in English but has a genuine Hispanic insight to it."

McDonald's has been a bellwether for ethnic-orientated marketing appeals since the early 1970s, when it began working with Burrell Communications to understand the multicultural audience in greater depth.

And the company realises that today's brands must take the evolving context in which they operate into account. "We're not in Kansas anymore. The general market doesn't look the same," Peleo-Lazar concluded.

Data sourced from Warc