McDonald's Apologizes for Ad

McDonald's says it didn't approve an ad that makes light of a mental health issue. In a Boston subway ad, the company pokes fun at someone with an addiction to a Big Mac.


Nicole DiNoia, a spokesperson for 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, that process was not followed. We sincerely apologize for this error."

With no one taking responsibility, who's to blame? The response is reminiscent of the Ford ad that the company said it didn't approve. In that case, the ad agency did take responsibility for the offensive ads and terminated those involved.  In this case, Arnold agency president Pam Hamlin apologized and blamed the process rather than the design:

"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."

In the Ford situation, it was somewhat believable that the ad agency created the ads just to show its creativity. But this situation is different: the agency is hired by McDonald's but didn't get approval during any stage of ad development: concept development, composition, printing, or distribution?

Discussion Starters:

  • What's your reaction to the ad? Do you find it offensive, funny, or something else?
  • How do you respond to the apologies from McDonald's and the ad agency? What, if anything, could they do differently?