McDonald’s UK pulls ad that ‘exploits child bereavement’

The ad by international agency Leo Burnett tells the story of a young boy’s mother telling him about his deceased father, who the boy clearly does not remember, before the two share a meal at McDonald’s where the mother reveals to the boy that the Filet-O-Fish was his “Dad’s favourite too.”

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) received about 100 complaints within a week. “Complainants have objected that it is inappropriate and insensitive to use bereavement and grief to sell fast food,” an ASA spokesperson told The Guardian.

“We can confirm that we have taken the decision to withdraw our ‘Dad’ TV advert,” says a McDonald’s spokeswoman. “It was never our intention to cause any upset. We are particularly sorry that the advert may have disappointed those people who are most important to us: our customers,” she says. “The advert will be removed from all media, including TV and cinema, completely and permanently this week.”

The ad’s close proximity to the United Kingdom’s Father’s Day also was a common thread among the complaints to the ASA, and criticism which occurred on social media too. The ad was also criticised by Grief Encountered, the children’s bereavement charity, apparently.

A fascinating debate. And it can certainly be argued that McDonald’s UK ‘Dad’ ad could be considered extremely ill-advised, leveraging a family’s grief.

On the other hand, the commercial is beautifully shot and acted, really rather touching, and death is a reality of life, even if we try to sanitise it out of our lives in the Western world.

Which all leads to an interesting discussion – are there topics that are simply too sensitive to be used as fodder for advertising? Or does advertising – an inevitable part of our life – have the capacity to touch on any subject? What do you think?

One more thought occurs. The UK has a population of 63 million, most of them will have sampled McDonalds at some time, may may be regulars. There were 100 complaints. Even if we use, as a rule of thumb, a hundred times that actual number as an assumption about people who were pissed off by the ad but who didn’t bother to complain (which is generous, frankly) that’s still only 10,000 of the population. Or 0.016%.

Yet McDonalds rapidly and permanently pull an ad that would have cost a poultice of money to make, and which presumably would have been “signed off” right up to the very top of the marketing tree.

Which also leads us to ponder, are advertisers too quick to run scared from criticism? Great creative is often polarising, and you simply “can’t please all of the people all of the time”. Should McDonalds have politely said “Look, we understand some people don’t like it, but it’s respectful and heartfelt. So we’re sorry to anyone who’s upset, but we like it.”

We’re honestly not sure what we think. As we said: interesting.

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Author: Stephen Yolland

Director of Creative Strategy and Partner @ Magnum Opus Partners.

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