Cultural Sensitivity McFail

Cultural Sensitivity McFail

How is a fast food restaurant like a tree? Beats me.


I once heard a story… “Whatever blooms from the Baobab is given back to the earth, because the mighty tree never forgets its roots.” Like the mighty Baobab, McDonald’s and I will not be moved.

You’re not going to believe this, but the statement above is a direct quotation from the official McDonald’s website. First of all, it makes no sense. The tree gives back to the earth, and the speaker “will not be moved.” I don’t really get the analogy. And I really don’t get how McDonald’s factors into it. Does McDonald’s give back to the earth? Is McDonald’s impossible to move? Here’s my best shot: McDonald’s gives the speaker the strength of a mighty tree. But it’s certainly a confusing way to put it, not to mention a silly thing to say. Not only that, McDonald’s is equating itself with one of the most sacred trees in African folklore, known as “the tree of life.” That seems sort of disrespectful to the culture they’re pandering to, and gloriously ironic given how unhealthy McDonald’s food is and the high rate of obesity among African-Americans.

So basically, it’s not the best two sentences of marketing copy ever written. But the Baobab quote is merely the gateway to something even stranger:, McDonald’s special website for black people. I promise you this is real.


If you’re like me, you will stare at this for a while, and then click on “What is 365Black?” The site explains:

At McDonald’s, we believe that African-American culture and achievement should be celebrated 365 days a year — not just during Black History Month. That’s the idea behind

Okay, so it’s a website about black history? No. Not at all.

It’s a place where you can learn more about education, employment, career advancement and entrepreneurship opportunities…

Of course, all those scholarships and jobs they’re talking about are available to everyone, not just African-Americans. I don’t see how posting a link to the general McDonald’s employment page is celebrating African-American culture. But there’s one more thing…

…and meet real people whose lives have been touched by McDonald’s.

Every month, 365Black posts testimonials from African-Americans with some association to McDonald’s (everyone from regular old employees to Monopoly contest winners). Last year, they did as many as five profiles a month–in 2009 they’ve averaged only one, and they flaked out on March entirely.

The site also has a “What’s Happening” page, which is where they seem to hide the stuff that’s most relevent to the idea of “celebrating African-American culture.” For instance, McDonald’s is sponsoring a Gospel tour, with free admission. That’s great, as are the scholarships and career opportunities. What I’m sniping at here is the questionable marketing decisions, from the name of the site on down. From the “What is 365Black?” page:

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.

Is it just me, or is this pretty damn condescending? It’s also poorly written and missing a comma after “African-American community.”

But that isn’t the only minority they’re condescending to.


Say “konichiwa” to, which may be the single worst website title on the entire internet. First of all, Asians hate being lumped together as Asians, so that’s a great start. On the home page, watch past the McCafe commercial to see an ad with a man karate-chopping next to a Big Mac, which is surrounded with rays uncomfortably reminiscent of the Japanese imperial flag. The first link on the menu bar goes to a page celebrating Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, which was last month. This page teaches you to say non-stereotypical Asian phrases like “Check out my new cell phone” and “Let’s go do some karaoke.” This one says that the “Family Pavillion Tent” will be showing up at various Chinatown street festivals, which sounds exciting until you see the photo gallery. McDonald’s, if those are the only six photos you have, just forget it.

Finally, there’s


On this site, you can see some futbol tips from Mexican soccer star Missael Espinoza. At least I assumed he was a star. But looking at his Wikipedia page, he doesn’t seem that great–in his only World Cup appearance, he rode the bench the whole time and didn’t play a single minute. Plus, he’s been retired for five years. MeEncanta also has info on the Fiestatour, a mobile exhibit of Latin artist memerobelia (Gloria Estefan, not Frida Kahlo). And the site offers a good section on getting into college, with info on special scholarships.

My favorite part of this site is the “Latin Pride” section. There’s a colorful “Mi Lado Latino” graphic, and buttons to click that say “Sticker,” “T-shirt,” and “Poster.” But when you click on the “Sticker” graphic, all you get is the image and instructions to print it out on adhesive paper. Clicking on “T-shirt” shows you the image with instructions to print it on transfer paper. And the “Poster” link just downloads a really big image. Presumably, you have to bring it to Kinko’s to actually get a poster made. There’s something pretty mind-blowing about the fact that McDonald’s doesn’t care enough to actually produce its own “Latin Pride” t-shirts. They haven’t even heard of CafePress, apparently.

Here’s something to consider. On 365Black, the benefits of working at McDonald’s are touted in a giant slider on the front page. On MeEncanta, the page is dominated a McCafe ad, and “employment opportunities” is a little button at the bottom. On MyInspirAsian, you won’t find the word “job” or “employment” anywhere on the front page. You do, however, see a picture of a “designer and artist” in wire-rim glasses and a sweater.

I guess a basic question is, does it make sense to create these standalone mini-sites for particular ethnicities? Burger King isn’t doing it. Wendys isn’t doing it. So either McDonald’s is smarter than its competitors, or dumber. Or more experimental.

But let’s play devil’s advocate and say McDonald’s in onto something. After all, isn’t the future of the web about narrowcasting and creating microcommunities? If you’re a giant company with a diverse audience, why not create a bunch of different landing pads? Is this really much different than Disney creating one site for children who want web games, and another site for adults who want vacation planning tools?

But even if you think the concept of ethnic sites has merit, surely these three aren’t the best they can do. On the other hand, I did learn to say “Text me” in Indian.

11 Comments on “Cultural Sensitivity McFail”

  1. Saint #

    Check out the McDonald’s France website. It is GORGEOUS. And what is the apparent ethnic emphasis?

    “Côté Environnement” – a series of animations that describe the ways in which every “Macdo” in France is saving the environment, from the low-flow toilets in the bathrooms to the comprehensive battery-recycling program for Happy Meal toys.


  2. Darin #

    Is it just me or are these they stereotypes from the late 70s???

    I once heard a story about McDonalds.

    They pre-fab the inside of a new franchise so that there is as little on-site construction as possible. Just to see if they could do it, they poured quick drying foundation Friday morning and worked around the clock through Sunday night.

    They opened with full service including the current promotion, hot meals, employees, and no glitches Monday for breakfast.

    It seems the mighty tree of McDonalds wants to spend its time harvesting profits and little time creating roots.


  3. rick #

    Wow, don’t click on that French McDonalds link, unless you want to have a serious browser meltdown. Its like a myspace page filled with animated gifs but worse.

    GORGEOUS? How much is McDonalds paying you? SHEEEESH


  4. donn #

    Did a little digging and there was a time when the baobab page almost made sense:

    You can see that the phrasing is a lot different, very subtle, and unfortunately built in flash, but it ALMOST makes sense.

    Two months later the current page appears (May 21, 2005). Someone at McDonalds said “I don’t get it, my mom doesn’t get it. Listen, my mom not only doesn’t get it she doesn’t see ANYTHING. Where are the floating words? Simple it up, and put McDonalds in it. Like, McDonalds is a mighty bobble tree.”


  5. Matthew Belinkie OTI Staff #

    @donn – That’s some might fine detective work! Yeah, the old version was better, although still silly. The text used to be:

    I cannot be moved; it’s the tree I am.
    I’ll recognize achievement and encourage growth.
    I’ll provide for celebration and festivity.
    These are my people and my block and
    whatever we take from it, we have to put back.

    And by the way, “McDonalds is a mighty bobble tree” made me laugh.


  6. TheBrummell #

    Darin said: “It seems the mighty tree of McDonalds wants to spend its time harvesting profits and little time creating roots.”

    Um, yes? So what? They’re a corporation, that exists to make money for its shareholders.

    And how does “restaurant built very quickly” translate into “not creating roots”, anyway? Would they be more culturally relevant if they handcrafted each restaurant using local artisans, but then end up selling the same food? Why is pre-fab bad?

    Other than pointing out the absurdity of the McDonald’s ethnic websites, what was your point?


  7. Gab #

    Even if the idea of creating specific websites for different ethnicities is a good idea, it has been done poorly here because so many stereotypes are being emphasized. I wonder if the Native American page would have an audio greeting of, “How!” or something. The Asian one is especially awful (imo), and if I hadn’t known any better, I’d say it’s a satire to *make fun* of McDonald’s lack of cultural sensitivity.

    As for the pre-fab debate, I’d agree with TheBrummell that it’s necessary to be fast and cookie-cutter because that’s how the McDonald’s package succeeds: it’s overarching (HAH!) transferability is why it is a national and *global* phenomena and how it makes its profits. Every chain store or restaurant operates under this format, from Barnes&Noble to Starbucks to Wal-Mart to The Olive Garden. The customers depend on knowing what to expect no matter where they encounter the place, and this dependability makes the corporation capable of operating anywhere in *and out* of the U.S.- I know I’ll get basically the same experience if I go to McDonald’s in Dublin, GA or Dublin, Ireland. It’s about having the best format that will reach the most consumers, ergo achieving the highest profit margins possible.


  8. Isaac #

    Q: “When was the last time you used your senses?”

    A: I’m using one of them right now, to read your stupid website.


  9. Doodie #

    Good post. But, 365Black is ridiculous. I think this is one of those things that we’re all going to look back on and say “I can’t believe they thought like that!”

    “Like the African Baobab Tree, which nourishes the community with it’s leaves and fruit, McDonald’s has branched out to the African-American community nourishing it with valuable programs and opportunities.”

    Can someone please tell me what a Baobab tree has to do with culture and life in the United States?

    And how many people of African decent have ever eaten Baobab fruit or even know what the hell a Baobab Tree is? I feel bad for the actual Africans being nourished be this tree if it’s fruit is compared to McDonald’s food. Does the Baobab Tree clog arteries and rob the body of essential vitamins and nutrients too?

    Not to mention, the girl in the in the video is easily less than 50% recent African decent anyway. The whole concept is retarded. wrote something up about it as well.


Add a Comment