Author: Fara Darvill, Marketing and PR

Everyone is apologising!

McDonald’s apologised and withdrew its ad, Skittles apologised and withdrew its ad. Dove has been censured for its recent ‘body types’ packaging, so no doubt an apology is on the way.

So why are they all saying sorry? McDonald’s is saying sorry for its ‘dad’ ad, now unfairly called the ‘dead dad’ ad. The brand, which has been successfully running ‘moments’ advertising for a number of years, recently launched a story of a mum talking to her son about his late dad. The brand has been accused of exploiting childhood bereavement. Outcry to this ad would seem to suggest that some subject matter is still taboo in advertising.

It raises the question of why a genuine life moment like this should upset some viewers (there have only been 100 complaints to the ASA). The scene in the ad is a real moment in time; children do understand and talk about the death of a parent. The issue seems to be that it has been perceived by some of the viewing audience that McDonald’s took that ‘moment’ to sell more products. Eager to protect the brand and any stop any further controversy, McDonald’s withdrew the ad.

Skittles (owned by Mars) has apologised for the bad taste of the content of its recent US ad: an adult child still attached to his senior mother via an umbilical cord, through which she is feeding him Skittles. While it makes for mostly grossed-out viewing, the wider question is how does it fit within the ‘Taste the rainbow’ proposition? It doesn’t fit comfortably with the fun, quirky approach of previous TV ads like ‘the bleachers’. Was the brand pushing the envelope to see how far it could take ‘quirky’?

The cynical view is that brands undertake this kind of advertising activity deliberately. A banned ad gets people talking, drives recall and promotes the brand through copious amounts of PR coverage — there’s no such thing as bad PR, right?.

Thinking about what has happened this week, it has prompted the question, should we shoot down/withdraw those ads that make us think, feel, comment, or that provoke an opinion? When is the last time anyone in your office said, ‘have you seen that ad on TV?’ which then sparked a debate?

Perhaps sorry isn’t the hardest word to say after all!