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PR Fail: McDonald's Mocks Mental Illness with 'Unapproved' Ad
By: Shawn Paul Wood
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Hey McDonald's, thanks to your recent advertising faux pas, many consumers are [bah-dah-bah-bah-baaah] not lovin' it. (I'm really sorry about that.)

ICYMI: the global burger franchisor and its ad company, Arnold Worldwide, were considering a new ad. It had to be something that caught public attention. It had to move the product. It had to...offend absolutely everyone who has seen it?! How about making fun of the 1 in 10 Americans who take antidepressants? Yeah, that should do it. You think I'm kidding? 

The ad was in a Boston mass transit (Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority) showing a woman who is clearly distraught burying her face in her hand with the glistening headline "You're not alone." The small print reads "Millions of people love the Big Mac." This is accompanied by a toll-free number that happens to be direct dial to Clown Central's customer satisfaction line. Why? To share an experience they had at a McDonald's restaurant. Yeah, you stay classy, Ronald. The only saving grace in this PR brouhaha is that McDonald's didn't approve this ad (and that Arnold Worldwide is most likely minus one million-dollar account by the time you read this). To wit, Clown Central released this statement:

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 Worldwide began to feel the heat for releasing this heinous mockery of mental illness and released the following 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.

Niiiiice save. No, this is a PR problem because now the finger of public interest groups, like the National Alliance on Mental Illness, is pointed. Take this quote for example:

"The worst possible situation is if someone in an emotional crisis were to see that image and call that number," says Bob Carolla, spokesman for the National Alliance on Mental Illness. "It would be a cruel mistake."

Can you imagine? What's next, "Unhappy Meals"? This 'ad' is leaving consumers in a quandary: What's worse? McDonald's and Arnold somehow were beginning to think this would cause fun and yuks on a Boston subway, or the aforementioned 1 in 10 people taking antidepressants are going to reconsider their fast-food options? Oversensitive by some? Maybe, but try asking someone who can relate to the woman in the picture before you jump to that conclusion. Oh, BTW, May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Yeah, the hits just keep on coming.

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About the Author
Shawn Paul Wood is a hack-turned-flack with more than 20 years of collective journalism, copywriting and marketing communications experience. Shawn Paul is founder of Woodworks Communications in Dallas, Texas. If you need him, ping him here or follow him on Twitter @ShawnPaulWood
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