McDonald’s pulls tasteless TV advert that “exploited child bereavement”

The controversial ad showed a boy who was struggling to find something in common with his dead father - until he discovered they both liked Filet-O-Fish

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McDonald’s has withdrawn its new television advert and apologised for causing upset after it was accused of exploiting childhood bereavement.

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The ad, which first hit TV screens last week, shows a boy asking his mother what his father was like before he died. As she describes him, the boy looks sad as they don’t seem to have anything in common – such as “shiny shoes” or football skills. But after they arrive at a McDonald’s and he digs into a Filet-O-Fish, his face lights up as his mother says: “That was your dad’s favourite, too.” 

Children’s bereavement charity Grief Encounter said it had received phone calls from concerned parents, and the Advertising Standards Authority said it had registered 100 complaints by Monday. 

Shelley Gilbert, the founder of Grief Encounter, said: “What [McDonald’s] have done is exploited childhood bereavement as a way to connect with young people and surviving parents alike – unsuccessfully.

“One in 29 children are bereaved of a parent or sibling by the time they are 16 years of age, so this storyline will resonate with a huge number of children and surviving parents.

“We have already received countless phone calls this morning, with parents telling us their bereaved children have been upset by the advert and alienated by McDonald’s as a brand that wants to emotionally manipulate its customers.”

Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Advertising Standards Authority said: “Complainants have objected that it is inappropriate and insensitive to use bereavement and grief to sell fast food. Some complainants have referenced the proximity to Father’s Day.

“We’re carefully assessing the complaints but no decision has been reached on whether there are grounds to launch an investigation.”

There was also criticism on social media, including from many people who said they had lost a parent during childhood.

McDonald’s removed the “Dad” advert, and released a statement saying: “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.

“Due to the lead times required by some broadcasters, the last advert will air on Wednesday 17th May.

“We will also review our creative process to ensure this situation never occurs again.”

The advert is the latest in a spate of controversial commercial campaigns where brands have implied that their products are a quick fix for serious issues.

Last month, Pepsi withdrew an advertising campaign featuring Kendall Jenner after the company was criticised for using race riots and protest movements to sell its products. 

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And just last week, Dove sparked controversy for its “body positive” bottles, where six bottles in the collection were shaped like different women’s body types. It was labelled as patronising and criticised for missing the mark on women’s issues.