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McDonald’s Courts Asian New Yorkers, By Anne Noyes Saini, CitySpoonful

In a city where more than half of all consumers are ethnic minorities, multicultural marketing isn’t just a smart business strategy—it’s a necessity. So it’s not surprising that fast-food giant McDonald’s has quietly expanded its marketing efforts in the Tri-State Area in hopes of wooing a new demographic: Asians and Asian-Americans.

“It’s an important part of our business,” says McDonald’s spokeswoman Jennifer Nagy. “We’ve got McDonald’s in the Asian communities, and we’ve got Asian customers that come to McDonald’s. We want to be sure that our marketing is relevant to them and appealing to them.”

The new marketing effort involved a coupon promotion that went out to Korean, Chinese, Indian, and Filipino New Yorkers last summer. Mixing English and Hindi, one coupon offers a free frappé or smoothie and urges recipients to visit the fast-food chain: “Hamaari treat. McDonald’s aaye aur enjoy kare. [Our treat. Come to McDonald’s and enjoy.]” Other coupons in Korean, Chinese, and Tagalog offer similar deals.

In general, direct-mail campaigns are a good way to reach ethnic consumers, says Lisa Skriloff, president of Multicultural Marketing Resources, a New York–based marketing and publishing firm.

“The general market household is inundated [with direct mail], but the ethnic household is not,” Skriloff says. “They see that a company has created something just for them, and it’s in their language.”

A McDonald's coupon that went out to New Yorkers last summer mixed English and Hindi. Photo by Anne Noyes Saini.

McDonald’s also has been targeting Asian radio shows throughout the Tri-State Area, delivering food from its restaurants for station employees and offering free meals to listeners.

Last year, the mega-chain started an essay-writing contest for local Asian-American children. It also marked Lunar New Year, Diwali, and several other Asian celebrations by hosting festival-themed storytelling events for kids.

Skriloff, who is familiar with the efforts of McDonald’s to reach Asian New Yorkers, notes that the fast-food giant is the first mainstream chain to set its marketing sights on the city’s Asian communities.

“They are at the forefront of fast-food restaurants,” Skriloff says. “They’re making a serious investment, and they have staying power—they’re not just doing one ad and then disappearing. That shows the consumers that a brand cares about their opinion and their business.”

Justin Yu, president of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce in Manhattan, says he has noticed more McDonald’s ads in Chinese-language newspapers in the past two years.

“I think the Asian market is getting bigger, and I think not only McDonald’s, but all kinds of businesses have all kinds of promotions in the Asian communities,” Yu says. “I think it’s a good strategy from a business point of view, but I’m not so sure if eating fast food is good for us.”

McDonald’s declined to discuss specific sales numbers related to the new outreach efforts, but Nagy says the restaurant chain is satisfied with the results so far.

“We’ve gotten good feedback from [the 2010 campaign],” Nagy says. “People come to our events, and what we’ve been doing has been positively received.”

Skriloff, who has been following the campaign, says outward signs indicate that Asian outreach by McDonald’s is paying off.

“When you see a corporation repeating their efforts and staying and expanding, then you know [the campaign] must be successful in attracting a consumer,” she says.