Ah, advertising. At its best, it can be brilliant, evoking emotions in an audience. But that's not what we're talking about today.
No, today it's another example of the extended advertising walk of shame. Sometimes it happens by accident, like when major brands found their ads paired with terrorism and white supremacy videos on YouTube. Even worse, it happens too frequently when companies and agencies live and work in bubbles, as happened with the infamous Pepsi Kendall Jenner ad.
McDonald's just pulled a Pepsi. Better or worse? Hard to say. But when your marketing miracle is nicknamed the Dead Dad Ad, it's clear that things are about to go downhill. Quickly.
The gist of the maudlin commercial spot that's been running in the U.K. is a boy misses his dead father and asks his mother about him. The boy keeps trying to find ways he's like his dad and every answer the mother gives shows that they seem nothing alike. Except, when the boy and his mother walk into a McDonald's for lunch, it turns out that he and his father had the same favorite menu item: a fish sandwich.
Where do you begin with something like this? It's trying to tug at the heartstrings for an emotional appeal, but it crosses a number of lines. People understand that advertisers are trying to grab their attention, but there are social norms that say you don't try to cash in on certain subjects. Lonely and potentially alienated children is one. Widows is another. Both at the same time? You're not asking for trouble, you're pleading for it. Social media users were happy to deliver.
This is so poorly thought through and insensitive - McDonald's apologises for 'dead dad' ad - BBC News https://t.co/HFoPJ1PjYd-- Justin Wilson (@Jus_Wilson) May 15, 2017
New @McDonalds ad: your dad's dead, you're not like him at all, he might not be your dad, but you like the same fish-that's-maybe-not-fish-- Ewan McIntosh (@ewanmcintosh) May 13, 2017
@McDonalds just saw your latest Dead Dad/Tartar Sauce ad. Stay Classy Mickie D's-- Chris Montgomery (@montycomedy) May 13, 2017
Just saw a McDonald's ad about a son asking his ma about his dead dad. Then he orders his dads 'favourite burger'. shoot me, I'm finished-- Chris McMenamy (@cmcm52irfc) May 13, 2017
Some displeased viewers noted that the campaign, which first ran last Friday and was schedule to continue for seven weeks, would coincide with Father's Day, as the BBC reported. Bereavement charities have also been critical:
One in 29 children in the UK are bereaved of a parent or sibling by the time they are 16, according to Grief Encounter, which offers support to bereaved children and their families. Dr. Shelley Gilbert, founder and president of the charity, said: "McDonald's have attempted to speak to their audience via an emotionally driven TV campaign. However, what they have done is exploit childhood bereavement as a way to connect with young people and surviving parents alike--unsuccessfully."
In addition to social media scorn, the U.K.'s Advertising Standards Authority, or ASA, has received more than 100 complaints, with the number growing, as Marketing Week reported.
People are taking the time to go through official channels, avoiding the simple convenience of social media, suggesting a pretty deep level of displeasure. Although the ASA has not decided to begin an investigation, that is still a possibility.
Creating offense "was by no means an intention of ours," a company spokesperson told the BBC. "We wanted to highlight the role McDonald's has played in our customers' everyday lives--both in good and difficult times."
Uh, yeah. When someone you love is dead, there's nothing like celebrating at a McDonald's. Not only was the ad worse than tone-deaf, but the apology might have been even worse. Companies advertise for self-centered reasons, of course, but does anyone in management really think that lives revolve around them? Apparently so. And the company's London-based ad agency, Leo Burnett, didn't know any better either.
Maybe management and agency can all get together and commiserate over a Big Mac, fries, and soda. It'll be heartwarming, if they haven't all already come down with heartburn.