Ads Parodying Mental Health – You’re Fired!

parody adsToday, McDonald’s apologized for a regional ad in Boston, Massachusetts that slipped through their approval process from their ad agency, Arnold. (Oops!)

There was a lot of backlash on the internet. Interestingly enough, people with mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and panic attacks, didn’t find the McDonald’s ad all that offensive. But the rest of the public found it distasteful.

According to the Huffington Post, McDonald’s issued this statement:

A local print ad displayed on the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) was recently brought to our attention. 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, our agency did not follow that process.

In other words, it’s not their fault. And Arnold president (who produced the ad) had to go on record that the ad wasn’t approved by McDonald’s and that it was an “unintended error.”  Hmm, explain to me how that happens. Did someone distribute it around the office as a joke and the files got mixed up when being sent via email?

Photocredit of McDonald’s bus ad: @foreveRizel

Then there’s Wheat Thins‘ “Must Have Wheat Thins” ad with a puppet who has mental health issues and flips out into a rage because he’s being told he can’t eat Wheat Thins, because well, he’s a puppet.  C’mon, really? Who thought that was a good idea? And the sad thing is that it could have been funny, but missed the mark.

Don’t advertisers know that certain things are off limits with parody ads? Such as:

  • Rape
  • Child Abuse
  • Mental Health
  • Women’s rights
  • Gay rights
  • Animal rights
  • + more
Parody ads are tough. If done right, they can be effective and funny, such as the Volkswagen Darth Vader ad. But if done wrong they can be a PR nightmare.
If you were McDonald’s would you fire the firm that let the parody ad slip or would you keep them on and expect a huge discount? What about the firm that created the Wheat Thins puppet ad? 


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About Tracy Sestili

Tracy Sestili is CEO and Chief blogger at Social Strand Media. She is also the author of Taking Your Brand from the Bench to the Playing Field -- Social Media Fundamentals for Business.