McDonald’s Apologizes and Will Pull This Tactless Ad About a Boy and His Dead Father

Approach to a sensitive topic goes awry

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UPDATE: Immediately after we published this story, a McDonald’s U.K. spokesperson confirmed that the chain had reversed course and decided to pull the ad.

“We can confirm today that we have taken the decision to withdraw our ‘Dad’ TV advert,” the statement read. “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,” the spokesperson added. “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 tomorrow, Wednesday 17 May. We will also review our creative process to ensure this situation never occurs again.”

Original story below:

McDonald’s has apologized for a contentious ad running in the U.K. that critics say exploits childhood bereavement. But so far it has resisted calls to pull the spot, which some viewers have called “offensive,” “exploitative” and “cynical.”

The controversy echoes that surrounding Nationwide’s 2015 “Boy” ad on the Super Bowl, which left the insurance giant scrambling to explain its intentions as social media chatter turned overwhelmingly negative.

The two ads share one very obvious theme—deceased family members.

The McDonald’s spot, by Leo Burnett London, centers on a young man who lost his father a long time before and appears to have no memories of him. As he discusses his late dad on a walk into town with his mother, she describes him for the boy. It soon becomes clear that the kid isn’t much like his dad at all, except in one curious respect.

According to many reports in the U.K., the ad has been upsetting to children watching who have lost parents themselves. As is so often the case on social media, responses were swift and, in many cases, unforgiving.

The ad did, however, have its defenders.

A spokesperson for Leo Burnett deferred to the client for comment. McDonald’s U.K. has not yet responded to an Adweek query, but the brand provided the following statement to the Guardian and the BBC: “We apologize for any upset this advert has caused. This was by no means an intention of ours. We wanted to highlight the role McDonald’s has played in our customers’ everyday lives—both in good and difficult times.”

Unlike Nationwide, which immediately pulled its ad off the air and parted with its longtime CMO less than three months later, McDonald’s has effectively defended the work, saying it will continue to run for the foreseeable future.

The Nationwide spot stood out for its dour message amid the usually upbeat Super Bowl efforts. But in some ways the McDonald’s spot could be seen as even more crass, as it presents a branded product—in this case, a Filet-O-Fish sandwich—as the one thing that can ease the child’s difficult feelings about his dead father.

The spot is part of a trend that has seen marketers tackling traditionally taboo family topics, most notably divorce. But it also serves as a reminder that it takes a light touch—where the product is secondary—to do it well.

According to the original report from the BBC, the U.K.’s Advertising Standards Authority is in the process of determining whether to launch a full investigation into the ad after receiving a wave of complaints. At the moment it is not clear what, exactly, might warrant such an effort.

@PatrickCoffee Patrick Coffee is a senior editor for Adweek.