- Ellen DeGeneres on her talk show this week presented University of Houston students Jevh Maravilla and Christian Toledo each with a check for $25,000 from McDonald's and an offer to be in an upcoming marketing campaign, NBC News reported.
- The money and offer follows a stunt pulled by the students that went viral. After noticing a lack of diversity in the posters hanging in a McDonald's in Pearland, Texas, the two, who are Filipino American, hung a photo of themselves in the restaurant to see if anyone would notice. The photo showed Maravilla dressed as a McDonald's employee, wearing a uniform purchased at a thrift store. The pair enlisted their friends to help hang the poster, which stayed up for weeks.
- The students also posted a video of the prank on YouTube, which has garnered more than 1 million views since August. McDonald's reportedly contacted Maravilla and Toledo, saying that the poster would be taken down because of a renovation and promised the new store would better reflect the community's diversity.
Research continues to show that consumers are expecting brands to feature more diversity in their marketing, but the stunt by the University of Houston students illustrates how important the issue is to consumers. By embracing the stunt and even saying it will include the students in a future campaign, McDonald's is highlighting its efforts to be more inclusive and authentic in its marketing.
The poster may have started out as a prank, but the stunt attracted widespread social media attention, effectively becoming an awareness campaign and a call for more Asian representation. The way this played out — from student prank to an offer to appear in a marketing campaign — highlights the power that consumers wield on social media, and how they can use the platforms to communicate with their favorite brands and hold them accountable on issues of unfair treatment, transparency and other issues.
Millennials are nearly 40% more likely to call out a brand on social media than other generations, and 59% say they would use social to address an issue with a brand, according to Sprout Social. Savvy brands like McDonald's are increasingly recognizing the importance of social media influencers and integrating them into their marketing efforts.
A number of marketers are working to include more diversity and positive portrayals of gender in their campaigns. McDonald's response could help it stand out among its competitors and win over younger consumers, especially Gen Zers, who expect brands to help foster their identities and are more likely to visit fast-food chains than other generations.