In 1969, the Apollo 11 astronauts walked on the moon, the Woodstock Festival rocked upstate New York and your average McDonald’s customer looked a lot like young Jimmy, here. (For the record, that burger he’s enjoying came with fries and a Coke, all for 58 cents.) It was probably not lost on McDonald’s that some of the customers wandering into its 1,000 or so locations in the United States were of Hispanic extraction. But marketing to them directly? Well, major brands just didn’t do that back then.
But the fact that they didn’t, and now they do—a fact illustrated by the 1969 and 2012 McDonald’s ads on these pages—is proof of more than just a rise in the sort of diversity awareness lacking during the Nixon era.
Ethnicity is always a tricky topic to discuss, but the force behind the lack of diverse faces in ads from this period surpasses questions of deliberate exclusion and smacks headlong into the realities of population figures and media platforms. “Hispanics were much lower in number than they are today,” said Ken Cervantes, vp and director of media strategy for ID Media. “Plus, when the Jimmy ad was done, there was just no vehicle to talk to the Hispanic community, even if a company wanted to.”
Cervantes, a Latino marketing executive who worked on the McDonald’s account in the late 1990s, has done his homework. The U.S. Census didn’t even attempt to count the Hispanic population until 1970. When it did, its confusing, long-form questionnaire yielded a figure of 9.1 million—likely a lowball, but roughly just 4 percent of the U.S. population. Not only did that clearly not justify a national ad buy, but there’d also have been few places to buy the ad anyway. People en Español? Latina? Siempre Mujer? Those magazines did not appear until 1996, 1996 and 2005, respectively.
It would take the rise of Telemundo and Univision in the late 1980s for marketers to truly wake up to the potential of the Hispanic demo—which was, at the same time, morphing into figures big enough to get any brand’s attention. Hispanic Americans now number over 50 million—16.5 percent of the population—and have a buying power north of $1 trillion. Move over, Jimmy. The gentlemen standing before the mountain of spuds, opposite, is Frank Martinez, and he’s not an actor. Born in Mexico, Martinez spent his childhood as a migrant laborer before he started growing his own potatoes in the U.S. on a small tract of land in 1981. Today, he operates Washington’s Saddle View Farms that supplies McDonald’s, which has put Martinez in a national ad campaign. That’s significant, Cervantes says, because it’s proof not just of Hispanic marketing’s ascendancy, but also its sophistication. Note that McDonald’s is not showing Martinez chowing down on a burger.
“The ad celebrates the fact that the Hispanic population has gotten to the point where they run businesses that are partners of major companies,” Cervantes said. “McDonald’s is showing that Hispanics aren’t just customers but partners.”
Which is probably a lot more than Jimmy turned out to be.