McDonald’s Dead Dad And More: Child Exploitation In Advertising

It’s not news to me that McDonald’s exploits emotional vulnerability in trying to get people to eat minced cow. Though apparently it is news to those upset by McDonalds’ latest advert, which shows a bereaved child being upset by his Mum comparing him to his dead Dad.

McDonald’s has apologised – but it’s going to keep showing the advert. That’s nice eh? In the same way I recently apologised to my friends after revealing that I’d defrauded them in a massive pyramid scheme, before regretfully explaining that I would be needing just one more payment from them in order to realise their investment.

Previous examples of McDonald’s adverts mining this rich seam of familial sadness include an ad where a loathed stepdad eventually won his glowering inherited stepson’s admiration by… buying him some minced cow in a bap.

It doesn’t stop there however. An Aviva advert that enraged me years ago invoked exactly the same notion: a dead father, a withdrawn child, an arrow to the heart of anyone who had suffered such a terrible loss.

It’s worth parsing again what happened in this advert. Paul Whitehouse plays a doting Dad whimsically grouching about the costs of raising a child as his family prepare to go on holiday. The payoff? He’s a ghost. But in a development rarely seen in the canon of MR James he had a life insurance policy, so he’s looking after his family from beyond the grave.

I still boggle at the naked emotional manipulation of that advert – and saw more than a whiff of it in this latest McDonald’s effort.

The idea that a meal at Maccies might amount to a bonding exercise twixt generations I can just about buy, but this new Maccies ad is just horrible. What next? A Big Mac after the latest round of chemo?

The minced cow giant has been accused of ‘exploiting child bereavement by no less than Dr Shelley Gilbert, president of the children’s bereavement charity Grief Encounter, who had this to say:

“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.”

Cut and dried then? Not if you’re McDonald’s. In classic ‘sorry-not-sorry’ style the calorie-vending giant has issued a weasel-worded apology regretting any ‘upset’ and regretting that ‘some have interpreted it in a negative way.’ It’s enough to make one wonder if the offense was the point.

“GENERATION SNOWFLAKE!” scream wankers everywhere. I wouldn’t blink if I saw a similar exchange going on in public – or read it in a book, or a drama. But when you’re upsetting people in the hope you sell more fillet-o-fish you’re in a whole new bizarro world where children losing their parents is mined to ram a corporate whistle down a few more choking throats.

EDIT: McDonald’s pulled the ad.

“We can confirm today that we have taken the decision to withdraw our ‘Dad’ TV advert. The advert will be removed from all media, including TV and cinema, completely and permanently this week.

“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.”