Golden Arches, What stories lie beneath

I saw an article on NPR’s website that looked at the history of McDonald’s commercials targeting black American and the shift from “Makin’ it” to “Lovin’ it” over the past few decades.  Within the article, there are several video clips that encompass an entire narrative arc for a character named “Calvin.”  The ads span from 1990 to 1992 and trace Calvin’s career starting at McDonald’s to making Manager, all within the theme of “Makin it.”

Continuing along the line of looking for storified content, I was tempted to look at the collective set of Calvin commercials because they exhibit the “Creation Story” shape portrayed by Maya Eilam’s info-graphic as Calvin essentially rises through the ranks.  But I looking at the last installment titled “The Grapevine.”  The video starts off Calvin letting his mom know that he’s part of the management team, which leads to a series of news exchanges between loved ones and friends.  With each exchange, Calvin’s accomplishment grows from afternoon management team, to manager, to owning a franchise.  The add ends with the “drop” in the story line when Calvin admits to not “owning” McDonald’s but signals the potential upswing with an optimistic “Not Yet.”

It’s a simple story and filled with optimism despite more immediate reality, though there is little down-stepping in the story shape.  I think this is inline with the theme that goes back to the NPR article, which highlighted the “Makin it” theme of the 70’s through the 90’s and how the target audience was “black folk.”  Regardless of the political and social interpretations and significance of the advertisement targeting, The story is pretty clear and straight forward.  




2 thoughts on “Golden Arches, What stories lie beneath

  1. I really enjoyed following that story of McDonalds and its evolving but really not all that evolved portrayal of blacks. Its comical and its not. I wonder what other way it could be turned inside out? Maybe a more accurate story for Calvin than the camp way McDonalds spun it?

    • It’s interesting because I don’t recall there being much of an uproar when these came out (though I may not have been in the right conversation circles at the time…as a 6th grader), though if such a portrayal were to be created today, it would get slammed. I’m curious how much strategy existed around targeting specific audiences at the time. What I mean is, these days, based on the cookies and browsing history, folks see what some analytics engine determines they would like want to see, never knowing that the person sitting next to them, visiting the same site, could be seeing a totally different ad. Back then, I imagine the targeting was a little more “blunt” relying on tethering ads to specific programming. Back in 1992, I would expect Calvin’s ads to be run during the runtimes for “Family Matters,” an old sitcom about a African-American family.

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