McDonald’s Creepy ‘Dead Dad’ Ad Is as Bad as It Sounds

The fast-food giant has since pulled and apologized for the tone-deaf advertisement.

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May 18 2017, 2:00pm

Fast food marketers have a pretty firm grasp on the attention span of children and, like it or not, have been pretty successful at targeting kids and getting them to eat burgers, fries, and chicken nuggets.

But for all of that sly and sneaky marketing, McDonald's is now dealing with the fallout from a very tone-deaf ad that was meant to be sentimental, but fell flat, if not downright offensive. What, thinking about the death of your parents doesn't make you crave burgers?

The cringeworthy commercial opens with a young British lad rummaging through some old heirlooms. "Mum, what was dad like?" the bright-eyed boy asks.

Mum stops what she's doing and proceeds to have a talk with him as they walk through town, which has a Sleepy Hollow vibe. Among the streets and merry-go-rounds, she tells him a bunch of strange details about his departed father like, "He was a 'wow' with all the girls," "His shoes were so shiny, you could see your face in 'em," and the fact that he liked techno music.

As the piano gets louder and the strings swell, the overall drama heightens, and the pair inevitably end up at McDonald's, where the young lad orders a Filet-O-Fish sandwich. Of course, the Filet-O-Fish was also Dad's favorite, and he, like his son, always had tartar sauce "all down his chin."

At this point, as Mum stares out the window and eats French fries, we begin to question the reliability of the narrator. Her gaze is less mournful and more, "Why does he have so many goddamn questions about his father?" Perhaps she was behind his unsolved death, or maybe Dad just ate too many Filets-O-Fish? Could the boy be the reincarnation of his tartar-sauce-inhaling father? Subsequent viewings shed no light on these questions.

OK, we might have gone a little off-track there, but a fast food ad geared at children should never be open to that level of first-year-of-film-school interpretation by adults, and this one is. The real question is why McDonald's thought it was a good idea to explore childhood grief in a brooding, Bergmanesque Filet-O-Fish ad.

McDonald's eventually pulled the commerical, telling the BBC that they had no intention of being "offensive" and that they were just trying to "highlight the role McDonald's has played in our customers' everyday lives—both in good and difficult times."

It's not like the commercial ends with a young boy crying over his father's grave as tears fall into his milkshake, but McDonald's attempt to create emotionally driven content about a dead father ultimately leaves us feeling as confused as the kid in the ad.