‘McDonald’s’ Apologizes for Unapproved Ad that Pokes Fun at Mental Health PSAs

This past winter, Hill Holiday launched a massive “Happier Boston” campaign on behalf of Samaritan, an effort aimed at lowering suicide rates in the city of Boston (which has suffered an increased suicide rate over the past decade). So, at first glance, riders on Boston’s Metro train system — “The T” — may have mistaken the ad at left for a genuine mental health PSA.

Upon closer inspection, however, it becomes clear that the woman depicted in the image is not suffering from depression or anxiety, but from the shame that comes with an over-abundance of love for McDonald’s Big Mac. The ad reads: “You’re not alone. Millions of people love the Big Mac.”

The 800-number provided on the poster connects directly to McDonald’s corporate office, which, considering the public’s less-than-fuzzy feelings about the ad, probably didn’t result in many amused phone calls.

McDonald’s apologized for the ad, and explained that the company never approved it for public release:

We can confirm this ad was not approved by McDonald’s. And, as soon as we learned about it, we asked that it be taken down immediately. We have an approval process in place, with our marketing and advertising agencies, to ensure that all advertising content is consistent with our brand values. Regrettably, in this incident, that process was not followed. We sincerely apologize for this error.

Arnold, the agency responsible for the ad, released this statement:

Arnold apologizes for its mistake to McDonald’s and to anyone who was offended by the ad. McDonald’s did not approve the ad, and its release was our unintended error. We’ve addressed the issue and have improved our approval process to ensure this does not happen in the future.

The poster was dreamed up as part of a larger (and still unapproved) campaign that spoofs stereotypical subway ads. The personal injuries lawyer poster promises to “get you the sausage you deserve”, while the continuing education parody reads, “It’s never too late for an Angus Bacon Cheese.” Both of which seem, at least to us, like they may have drawn a bit less ire.

This is the second time in the past several days that an unapproved ad released to the public went a little too far, resulting in a PR headache for both the agency responsible and the company being advertised. Earlier this month, Ford found itself in damage control mode after its agency leaked an ad featuring cartoon versions of the Kardashian sisters tied up and gagged in the back of a Ford Figo.

While some industry professionals feel that everyone just needs to lighten up when it comes to “offensive” scam ads (ads released without client approval), we tend to agree a bit more with AdAge columnist Ken Wheaton that such unapproved ads, especially when they rub the public the wrong way, do less to boost creativity and more to damage brands and undermine agency credibility. While it’s nice to imagine everyone “lightening up” and uniting in support of creativity and a sense of humor, until they actually do, an offended public is an offended public and there’s nothing good about having your brand attached to that.