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Thursday, September 30, 2004

McDonald's uses graffiti to woo the US Latino market

    Posted by Adam Crouch

McDonald's has decided that the best way to build their brand with the US Latino market is through... graffiti. My first reaction was, "what?! Isn't that a bit... insulting?"
"We wanted something [that reflects] the lifestyle of the Hispanic consumer," says Ken Ebo, the chain's regional marketing director.

Wow. That seems like some pretty strong negative stereotyping, and you wouldn't think it would attract young families, traditionally the core customer base of McDonald's.

But then I saw some pictures of the graffiti. Here's a small pic of the graffiti artists in front of one of their creations:

McDonald's graffiti advertisement

A nice New York skyline, with the McDonald's logo and "Me Encanta" ("I'm lovin' it" in Español)

and here is something Tats Cru, the graffiti artists that McDonald's hired, did for Coca-Cola:

Coca-Cola graffiti ad

I can see this doing fairly well. It has a distinctly different look from "typical" graffiti, and is more like a permanent billboard, with a little attitude thrown in. It's definitely a fine line though... you have to be careful about how it's done, to make sure it's sufficiently different from run-of-the-mill graffiti, so that your target audience doesn't get the impression that you think they're a bunch of hoodlums.

Of course, you also have to be careful about where you paint the ads, lest you end up in hot water, like Coke and Pepsi did in India. (Rule of thumb: destroying natural resources with your ads is generally not good PR)

Other companies have gotten into legal problems over ads that involve more temporary defacement of public property. IBM got into some trouble with the San Francisco city council over chalkings that used symbols to convey the message "Peace. Love. Linux." I imagine it worked out extremely well for them, as they got lots of publicity, and their target customers, computer geeks, are known for liking clever pranks. NBC did the same thing, but I don't know how well it worked out for them.

So if defacing property with your ads makes city officials grumpy, what about the opposite: CLEANING buildings as a way to get out your message? That's exactly what was tried in Yorkshire. One graffiti artist created stencils, and then rather than painting, selectively cleaned extremely dirty buildings using the stencils, so that the artwork (with corporate logo) showed up as the clean parts. Like writing "wash me" with your finger on a dirty car. Surely you can't get in trouble for cleaning, right? Wrong. Count on city council to stamp out all signs of fun, even "good clean fun".

The concept of "guerrilla marketing" is very cool though. It can really make a message stand out from the pack. The New York Times has an interesting article on it here, and there is a great deal of reading material out there if you're interested.

But where will the next "big thing" in guerrilla marketing come from? Most likely college campuses. There you have lots of creative people, who are willing to take risks and act a bit crazy, and who don't have anyone to tell them "we can't do that because we've never done it before". The copious amounts of alcohol helps as well, I'm sure. You also have lots of different student groups, all trying to find some cheap and effective way to get their message out there. Chalkings have been a staple of student group marketing on college campuses (at least in the US) for years. You're always seeing new marketing ideas on campuses, some of which work really well, and some of which crash and burn. But the students have fun doing it either way, so they keep coming up with more ideas.

Sidenote: There's a big piece of graffiti on an overpass in my city that says "EBAY". It's somewhat sloppy, on public property, and doesn't bear any resemblance to the eBay logo, so I think it's safe to assume that eBay didn't commission it. Which means there's probably a wily juvenile delinquent here who likes beanie babies. Kind of sad, really.

See also
Graffiti Archeology - cool flash animation of how graffiti changes over time in particular spots

(McDonald's story via Fast Company Now)

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