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 An Aviva advert that enraged me years ago invoked exactly the same notion: a dead father, a withdrawn child, an arrow to the heart of anyone who had suffered such a terrible loss.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.”

McDonald’s McCafe advert

mcdonalds mccafe advert

It’s not news that we live in weird times: Brexit, Trump, Ed Sheeran’s chart takeover and this VIPoo advert. All indications that something is amiss in the universe. But none of them come anywhere near this latest tear in the fabric of time and space: I briefly liked the new McDonald’s McCafe advert.

Here are some of the reasons I hate McDonald’s: they make shit food that tastes absolutely disgusting; they blandify high streets and city centres; they have that awful whistle; their adverts are voiced by an EveryDave; they’re still contributing to deforestation, despite their stated aim to cut it out; they’re clogging up the planet with plastic cartons; they target kids in their advertising; and they make gibbering, slurping simpletons out of grown-up people.

Suggest that we meet for a mug of Joe in a McDonald’s and I’d think you were a total weirdo, but I do like the most recent McDonald’s advert that takes aim at a pet hate of mine: the utter insanity of modern-day coffee.

It’s fantastically overpriced, it’s bewildering, it’s served in stupid mugs and often made by idiots. Pointing out the absurdity of all these things and then pointing out that you can get a reasonably-priced, non-thretening coffee at your local Maccies is therefore a home-run.

But as I watched it back a couple of times I started to find it increasingly obnoxious – it smacks of ‘so-called experts’ and the horrible, deliberate stupidity of the Brexit campaign, where to be identified as an elite, for any reason (ie. being clever, playing the piano, liking wine etc), was to be identified as a hate figure by right-wing newspapers. There’s more than a whiff of that dark-age mentality to this advert, which will appal you more and more with every viewing.

Of course while there’s a nasty streak of inverse snobbery to this I’m caught between two shitty stools. Yes there are stupid coffee shops of the ‘I saw you coming variety’ that will milk your lack of confidence or knowledge about a drink to shaft you (plenty of ‘craft’ beer pubs repeat the same trick).

But I like a really good coffee and I don’t mind paying an independent business to serve me some because I’d rather see a nice, characterful cafe on my local high street than the service-industry combine harvester of a McDonald’s, chomping up everything in its path and turning into something infinitely less interesting.

I have a suggestion: swerve the stupid Hipster places that will serve up the sort of nonsense you see in this McDonald’s McCafe advert and make it your business to put the local Maccies, Starbucks and Costa out of theirs. Instead get to know your cosy little local coffee shop, cafe or greasy spoon.

We seem to have lost sight of the happy medium in life. Not everything is a binary choice, black-and-white, good or evil. And that’s where the really interesting stuff in life lies. If your daily drudge amounts to a series of McDonald’s McCafes then, frankly, you’re failing at it.

Walks down a few alleyways, take a different route home, go somewhere you’ve never been on holiday, pop into that pub, shop or restaurant you’ve heard good things about, walk down a high street and buy your groceries from the local butcher, baker, candlestick-maker.

There’s a whole world out there and sometimes it’s scary. But you don’t want to lie on your deathbed and look back on a life of McDonald’s McCafes.