A McDonald’s commercial premiered in 1985 that featured a group of young Black girls playing Double Dutch while reciting items off of a McDonald’s menu. Not only does this commercial utilize Black cultural traditions (Double Dutch), but it also utilizes features of the Black oral tradition as well in its use of rhyming and repetition. Fast-forward to the present, McDonald’s still continues to use features of Black cultural practices (like the cha cha slide), and now even Black vernacular. Take for example, the McDonald’s “Breakfast is Back” commercial in which a young Black female rap includes items from McDonald’s breakfast menu and she urges all to have a great day and “get down” with McDonald’s.”
I had the opportunity during graduate school to take a course in African American English. Some have commonly referred to African American English as Ebonics, however, that is far from accurate. African American English (AAE) is more than just a collection of words or slang as it is referred to as in Ebonics. In fact it follows its own set of grammar, sounds, and social guidelines. For example, grammatically, words ending in ng are replaced by just n. As for sounds, there is the first syllable of words are stressed, such as in PO-lice. But, AAE’s social implictions are endless and oral traditions included such methods as rhythm, bragging, exaggerated and exaggerated language.
Popular brands have been incorporating black figures and black culture (or what they think black culture is) to see to new demographics for years. Although the days of the mammy figure on Aunt Jemima’s brand packaging are not as direct, popular brands continue to use minority figures, incorporate black cultural practices, but now use black language and oral traditions as well in their brand messaging. This can be seen most in McDonald’s advertising.
Take for example a throwback commercial called “McNugget Love” that premiered in 2008. The commercial depicts a black man performing an R&B song about his partner who might be cheating on him with McDonald’s food. Not only is the commercial set up by like an R&B music video but the use of exaggerated language, rhyming and words such as “creepin” are heard over and over as the man pleads with his love interest to share McDonald’s chicken nuggets.
McDonald’s use of Black cultural practices (which is often in music as seen in these commercials), and slang may be seen as a way in which to appeal to Black consumers and market their product as an urban product. However, as revealed in one article of BusinessWeek titled “Ethnic Marketing: McDonald’s Is Lovin’ It, Neil Golden, McDonald’s USA chief marketing officer states: “The ethnic consumer tends to set trends.” Therefore, McDonald’s seeks to exploit these “trends” which may include Black English into its advertising to sell its product not just to Black consumers but to white consumers as well as Steve Stoute, Chief Executive Officer of leading brand-marketing firm Translation states that “McDonald’s will take an ad that could be primarily geared toward African-Americans and put a general market advertising dollar behind it.” Writer of the article Burt Helm states that according to ad tracker Nielsen IAG, of the ten most-aired television ads from the past twelve months from McDonald’s in 2010, five had all Black casts. Therefore, McDonald’s is partly selling a Black image along with its product.
I would argue that along with the Black image is also Black English. For example, McDonald’s “I’m Lovin’ It” global ad campaign premiered in September of 2003. The slogan comes from the song “I’m Lovin’ It” recorded by artist Justin Timberlake, and produced by the Neptunes, co-written by Pharrell Williams. Justin Timberlake works with numerous Black artists such as Timberland and T.I. and samples from Black artists such as Michael Jackson. Now in return McDonald’s has sampled Black English through Timberlake’s song in that as the final “ng” sound is realized as an “n” in the lovin’, a common grammatical feature of African American English.
Black consumers have adopted the slogan “I’m Lovin’ it” into their daily practices. For example, on one YouTube clip titled New Black McDonald’s Commercial (After Church), a group of young Blacks use other black oral traditions of church raps which includes high emotions, hollers, and shouts that would commonly be sung on black church songs to sing the McDonald’s slogan. McDonald’s menu and the slogan fit perfectly into the rap. Therefore, one can see how the language in McDonald’s advertisement aligns itself with Black language, so that it can easily be reproduced like a trend in Black culture just as Helm stated that Black culture is seen as a trend to McDonald’s advertisers.
But the question is what are we supposed to think of McDonald’s use of Black English? Should we be upset? On the one hand, McDonald’s does a variety of campaigning to reach out to African Americans. McDonald’s latest program known as “365Black” seeks to provide a site where African Americans can learn more about education, employment, career advancement, and entrepreneurship opportunities. On their 365Black website a Video on the program features Black employees who constantly use the words “our” and “we” when describing the corporation followed by proclamations that McDonald’s supports the United Negro College Fund. The website also plays with Black oral traditions, this time proverbs as it states: “Like the unique African Baobab tree, which nourishes its community with its leaves and fruit, McDonald’s has branched out to the African-American community nourishing it with valuable programs and opportunities.” However, just because McDonald’s advertises itself as a corporation for African Americans, it does not mean the company is. Yes the current President and Chief Operating Officer of McDonald’s corporation is an African American male (Donald Thompson) but of the executive board of the McDonald’s corporation he is the only Black face out of fifteen employees, all who are white. Is McDonald’s really “our” corporation or are they just exploiting us through our own language?
However, McDonald’s is not the only the Brand to use minority cultural and oral practices in their messaging. Take for example Popeyes lastest chicken ads featuring Annie, “The Chicken Queen” who tells employees how much she works her “fanny off making this chicken perfect.” A chicken queen, really? Then there is the Pine Sol’s Diane Amos. In one of Pine Sol’s spot called Pine Soul Sister No. 1”, we see her driving along the mountains and the shore to arrive at her lavish mansion where she follows a trail of rose petals to her bedroom to find a black man mopping the floor. So, first, what makes her a “soul sister” is the power of pinesol and although her scene is this big eloquent mansion, it does not mean anything without a cleaning product in your life. Possibly the worst of them all in recent years is Mary J. Blige’s Burger King commercial which premierd in 2012. In the Ad, Mary J. Bligh bursts out singing to soulful tune about how much she loves chicken. What? Ba-da-bah–bah-bah…. Are we Lovin’ This?