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When Pepsi suggested that its product could solve the world’s problems with the help of Kendall Jenner, you might’ve thought it would be the most ridiculed brand of the year. But nope. McDonald’s just joined that competition.
The global fast food company this week pulled an advertisement it first aired on 12 May, featuring a boy and his mother chatting about the former’s dead father.
Although the ad is well filmed, adequately paced and genuinely touching, McDonald’s too makes the mistake Pepsi made, suggesting that a Happy Meal (or in this case, a filet-o-fish) can help you forget about dead loved ones.
Arguably, the ad is also selling products using bereavement.
As a result of its murky marketing message, the ad received a slew of negative comments online.
New #McDonalds advert, cynically using the story of a kid’s dead dad is trashy beyond belief. Who needs 2 parents when you have McNuggets?
— Tony Richman (@TonyLRichman) May 12, 2017
I am sickened and disgusted by this advert. Lost my dad at 9. Memories? Yes .Burger? No! Shameful ad #McDonalds
— Cate Wilson (@Cate43) May 12, 2017
The company then announced it would pull the ad in response to the backlash, claiming that it was “never [its] 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,” it wrote in a statement.
“We will also review our creative process to ensure this situation never occurs again.”
McDonald’s ‘Dad’ ad, as told by the internet
Beyond the succinct Twitter criticism however, there are a few notable, longer studies on the internet dissecting the ad.
A YouTube channel that goes by the name of Anarchi.st “aims to aid intellectual self-defence by centralising film relating to class struggle and international affairs”.
With the aid of timestamps, Anarchi.st runs through key moments in the ad in a pinned comment, providing critical commentary and opinions on each particular point.
“First impressions,” it begins. “The kid is sort of red-of-face. One cannot help but wonder if this is perhaps indicative of high cholesterol. But a child this young would have to eat a whole lot of unhealthy food or, perhaps, have a genetic disposi- oh God.”
Although laced with snark, Anarchi.st also highlights some debatable issues within the ad, as McDonald’s seemingly attempts to sell fast food to kids with low self-esteem.
“Solemn faced, devoid of romantic love, devoid of athleticism, devoid of parental approval, what’s a fatherless boy to do?”
“Forget that, arrival at McDonald’s has restored the bounce in his step. This could be you! Better have a couple of black guys sitting in the window… one of them rocking with laughter while the other one bites his burger. Deliciously choreographed diversity,” the channel adds.
UK charity Grief Encounters, which supports “bereaved children and their families to help alleviate the pain caused by the death of someone close”, also commented on the ad.
— Grief Encounter (@griefencounter) May 15, 2017
Founder of the charity Dr Shelley Gilbert blasted McDonald’s for exploiting “childhood bereavement”.
“One in 29 children are bereaved of a parent or sibling by the time they are 16 years of age,” Gilbert adds.
It’s not the first time that McDonald’s has tugged on its customers’ heartstrings in an advertisement though.
A touching ad that aired in March 2016 in Taiwan depicts a man coming out to his father, directly challenging perceptions of homosexuality in the country.
Its 2015 Superbowl ad, which showcased a number of customers paying for meals through acts of well-wishes and love, was also memorably saccharine.