It came as no surprise when McDonald’s announced this week that they were pulling their ‘Dad’ TV advert. In the wake of significant backlash from the general public and bereavement charities, it seemed the only sensible option.
Just how McDonald’s, usually such a solid performer in the world of TV advertising, had so badly missed the mark may be less down to the advert’s content, but more about failing to establish a credible link between it and the brand.
For those not aware of the latest installment in the burger chain’s advertising campaign – one that’s previously included a clever dig at the ‘hipster’ coffee scene – the basic premise focuses around a young lad struggling to find a common link to his deceased father. Unlike his dad he’s rubbish at football, has different coloured eyes and is terrible with the ladies. Things are looking desperate until he takes a bite into the Golden Arches’ very own Filet-o-Fish, which just happened to be the old man’s favourite, and voila! – it’s tartar sauce all round.
There is no doubting the sincerity of what’s being played out here. Take the looming ‘M’ logo out of proceedings and it’s a genuinely touching and well-crafted 90 seconds of film. Where this advert appears to have struck a particular nerve however, is the lack of any genuine association to the advert’s content and McDonald’s as a brand.
The use of bereavement and loss is nothing new to the TV advertising world, regularly used by charities as a hard-hitting tool that strikes right to the core of their key message and ultimately shapes their aim and purpose. McDonald’s however, appears to have hijacked this tactic for the simple aim of promoting their brand and products, with no real connection to the theme.
Sainsbury’s sailed close to the wind with their Christmas advert in 2014, commemorating the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War. The desperate scene of trench warfare made slightly more bearable by a bar of Sainsbury’s chocolate sent from home.
There was criticism, observers pointing out that the atrocities of war should not be used to promote what was ultimately the run-up to the festive period and the busiest time in the retail calendar – those turkeys and Brussels sprouts weren’t going to sell themselves, etc.
However, Sainsbury’s had been cute and received an endorsement from the Royal British Legion, with proceeds of a special edition chocolate bar going to the charity – I should know this, I bought three. This provided a link, albeit tenuous, so the viewer could understand the narrative behind the advert and why Sainsbury’s was using it in this way.
Would all this controversy for McDonald’s have been avoided if they had arranged to donate profits to a bereavement charity? Probably not. However, viewers would have been able to make a tangible link between the core message of the advert and its purpose. As Sainsbury’s showed, by developing a credible link to support your advert’s key message, you can come out relatively unscathed.
For McDonald’s, it’s back to the drawing board. Anyone got Ronald’s number…?