Spanish McDonald's ad prompts talk of a boycott
Bergen town's mayor calls billboard 'divisive'
Saturday, July 08, 2006
BY ANA M. ALAYA
The mayor of a small Bergen County town is calling for a McDonald's boycott if the fast-food chain does not take down a Spanish-language billboard advertising iced coffee.
Bogota Mayor Steve Lonegan said the advertisement is "offensive" and "divisive" because it sends a message that Hispanic im migrants do not need to learn English.
"The true things that bind us together as neighbors and community is our belief in the American flag and our common language," Lonegan said. "And when McDonald's sends a different message, that we're going to be different now, that causes resentment."
Representatives for McDonald's and CBS Outdoor in New York, the company that owns the billboard on River Road in Bogota, defended the advertisement yesterday.
"McDonald's has the right to advertise to their customers in an appropriate and tasteful manner," said Jodi Senese, executive vice president for marketing for CBS Outdoor. "The billboard is directed to the Hispanic residents of Bogota who make up 20 percent of that town's population. Advertisers recognize the diverse makeup of our nation and often reach out to different populations with messages that are relevant through images and or language."
The sign is one of several Spanish-language billboards in Northern New Jersey promoting McDonald's new iced coffee drink. According to Senese, similar advertisements were posted Monday in three other towns with large Spanish-speaking populations -- Irvington, West New York and East Orange.
The text of the advertisement in Bogota reads "Un frente helado se aproxima. Nuevo café helado," which means "A cold front is coming. A new iced coffee."
In a statement released yesterday, Jennifer Nagy, a marketing manager of McDonald's NY Metro Region, stood by the advertise ment.
"Our customers are at the heart of every decision we make, and we would never do anything to intentionally offend anyone," Nagy said. "When it comes to determining where we advertise, we have an ob ligation to our customers, employees, franchisees, and shareholders to reach our customers as effectively as possible."
Lonegan was dismissive of the statement yesterday.
"I think that their boilerplate press release is totally meaningless," Lonegan said. "It shows their utter disregard for this community."
Lonegan said he called the billboard company earlier this week and asked that the advertisement be taken down after several residents called him to complain that it was in Spanish.
"We are a very ethnically diverse community and we're proud of that," said Lonegan, the grandson of Italian immigrants. "But I happen to think the billboard is divisive. I think there's resentment from some parts of the community.
"If they don't want to take that billboard down," Lonegan added, "I don't want to buy their products and maybe other Americans like me should share that thought. We should boycott McDonald's."
Bogota councilman George Shalhoub said he agreed with the mayor. He said the sign "belittles" Latinos.
"Something like this doesn't really help the Latino community," said Shalhoub, the son of Lebanese immigrants. "If they're going to assimilate they need to utilize the language of the country they're in. That billboard helps no one but McDonald's to sell coffee and hamburgers."
Martin Perez, president of the Latino Leadership Alliance of New Jersey, an umbrella group of 250 Hispanic organizations, said there is an "anti-Latino" sentiment behind the opposition to the adver tisement.
"If the mayor is concerned about the diet of Latinos, I would understand, but that was not the intention," Perez said. "I think that the intention is that they don't want to recognize the fact that we live in a diverse state."
Deborah Jacobs, executive di rector of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, said McDonald's has a first amendment right to advertise in Spanish.
"Most Americans understand there are a lot of languages spoken in this country. Advertisers have every right to communicate with customers in other languages if they choose to do so."