After receiving a barrage of bad press from medias both social and mainstream, McDonald's has bowed to public pressure and pulled their latest TV ad. The spot in question has been accused of “exploiting childhood bereavement” by not only the usual social justice keyboard warriors, but a number of charities who felt that the ad was a cynical attempt a grief porn. Launched by Leo Burnett last Friday, the latest ad in the long-running "Favourites" campaign, which was initially planned to run for seven weeks (and still might), follows a young boy struggling to come to terms with the death of his father, who finds solace in the warm embrace of a fillet-o-fish burger.
Campaign groups representing widowers condemned the ad, labelling it as offensive, while bereavement counsellors claimed to have received numerous calls from anguished children. Dr Shelley Gilbert, founder and president of the Grief Encounter, 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. We fully support children and surviving parents remembering loved ones with memory boxes, family experiences which remind them of happier times and openly talking about the member of the family that has died. But trying to insinuate that a brand can cure all ills with one meal is insensitive and shouldn't be a way to show that a brand recognises the big moments in life.”
McDonald’s responded with the following apology: “We wanted to highlight the role McDonald's has played in our customers' everyday lives - both in good and difficult times. We apologise for any upset this advert has caused. This was by no means an intention of ours and we regret some have interpreted it in a negative way.” The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has said it is investigating the complaints and will assess the situation to determine whether there are grounds for further investigation.
Personally, I understand the backlash and the reason for it, but, if I might play devil's advocate for a brief spell, I don't personally think the ad is half as exploitative or saccharine as many have accused it of being, and I actually understand the sentiment behind it. It's also far more subtle and well handled than the notorious Kendall Jenner Pepsi ad from last month, which was wisely nuked from existence by its creators. Also, on a lighter note, anything that brings attention to the woefully under-appreciated fillet-o-fish is not all bad in my book.
Speaking earlier this week, McDonald's senior vice-president, chief marketing officer, Alistair Macrow, defended the decision to pull the ad, despite growing evidence that the ad has polarised viewers like few others. Whilst Macrow acknowledged that some viewers had appreciated the depiction of bereavement, he said the upset caused had to be the first priority. He said: "The public and a bereavement charity took to Twitter and told us very clearly we’d got it wrong, that the ad was inappropriate and that we’d caused upset. It’s no good listening if you don’t take action. That’s why we apologised straight away and pulled the ad from air. We appreciate a number of people found the ad very appropriate, but we’re not in the business of making advertising that upsets our customers."
Benjamin Hiorns is a freelance writer and struggling musician from Kidderminster in the UK.