At least they didn’t call it an Unhappy Meal…

ONCE in a blue and fatty moon we used to go to McDonald’s, back when our three were small. They’re all grown-up now and take themselves off to foodie places.

The fries were good and the coffee passable, but I stayed away always from those burgers. Nowadays I wouldn’t cross the threshold, but that’s just one of those burdens a food snob must carry.

McDonald’s knows its way round a clever TV advert, none of which appear to show groups of teens hanging around and causing a spotty nuisance (too many burgers, I guess). The street outside the branch in York is a magnet for teens at night, but then teenagers always have found somewhere to gather.

Even a stranger to McDonald’s cannot help but notice those ads. They are smart, smart enough usually to appear not to be an advert for McDonald’s at all, until you arrive at the ‘punchline’. After the tease comes the greasy reality: oh, it’s just another advert for burgers.

The latest McDonald’s advert has caused the wrong sort of stir, although it is possible to wonder at the way controversial adverts bring out the apologies, but are noticed far more than responsible ads. A cynical person might almost believe they do it on purpose.

Anyway, the latest McDonald’s ad has been accused of exploiting childhood bereavement. I haven’t seen the ad yet, and perhaps I never will now, but it shows a mother and a boy who is struggling to find something in common with his dead father – until he learns that they both liked the same McDonald’s meal.

The bereavement charity Grief Encounter says it has received “countless calls” from parents saying their bereaved children have been upset by the advert. McDonald’s has responded as you would expect, saying it had not been their intention to cause offence. “We wanted to highlight the role McDonald’s has played in our customers’ everyday lives – both in good and difficult times,” a grovelling-to-the-public-person said, according to the BBC News website.

Way to go, McDonald’s. Using grieving children to sell your burgers is an idea that should have stayed in the fat-fryer. I suspect that what happened here is that the advertising agency thought it was being responsible and sensitive – only to find that their efforts had entirely the opposite effect. At least they stopped short of calling it an Unhappy Meal.

In a sense, you can see where they were coming from, as there is an emotional side to food, although usually the memories are stirred by old family meals, not a favourite cheeseburger. Perhaps bereaved boys and girls could be taught to cook the meals their lost parent used to love. Or maybe nobody cooks anymore and they all go to McDonald’s instead. But food is too important to be left to McDonald’s, Burger King Subway and the rest.

Funnily enough, those Tesco recipes adverts are quite clever. People are shown cooking meals which you can then find on their website. The food looks decent, especially the veggie burger recipes, and Tesco keeps its presence low-key but friendly.

That’s the reasonably positive side of TV advertising. But presenting mass-produced burgers as a cure-all for childhood grief is a step too far. The advertising executive who came up with that idea should be forced to eat ten cheese-burgers on the trot.

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