In New Ad, McDonald’s Compares Loving Big Macs with Mental Illness

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How’s this for an “edgy” new ad: In a poster displayed on a subway, a woman is shown bowing her head and holding a hand over her face in shame. Next to her are the words “You’re Not Alone. Millions of people love the Big Mac.”

A toll-free phone number is also shown on the poster, with the idea that anyone “suffering” from problems like this poor woman can call the number for help. Turns out the number (800-244-6227) connects you to a McDonald’s corporate line.

[UPDATE: A representative for McDonald’s reached out to us and said that the ad was not approved of by McDonald’s. A statement credited to McDonald’s spokesperson Nicole DiNoia said the following:

“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.”]

Boston Magazine noted that the ad has shown up on the Orange line of Boston’s T subway system. Unsurprisingly, some people say the ad is in bad taste. Notably, David Yamada, who hosts a blog for the New Workplace Institute at Suffolk University Law School in Boston. After seeing the poster, which looks like an ad for a crisis center only with different words, Yamada wrote that McDonald’s has hit “a new low” by “making fun of public service ads for people who may need mental health counseling”:

The ad writers and executives in McDonald’s high-priced marketing operation missed the boat badly on this one. I’m sorry, but the ad is just too close to the real thing to be funny.

What is funny (sorta) is that the ad essentially admits—with wink-wink irony—that there’s something shameful, embarrassing, awkward, or painful about loving McDonald’s marquee attraction, the Big Mac. The ad is obviously intended to be provocative, following the mantra that it’s better to offend than be ignored. It’s somewhat reminiscent of a Lucky magazine ad campaign that surfaced last summer, in which consumers were encouraged to “fill the void” of their empty lives by (yep) shopping.

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In both cases, the target market for the message is clearly younger consumers, who supposedly live and breathe irony 24/7. Interestingly, McDonald’s seems desperate to reach this demographic, which collectively isn’t really “loving it” at the Golden Arches lately. AdAge recently highlighted research indicating that even though McDonald’s is the world’s biggest fast food chain, the brand is not in the top 10 favorite restaurants for millennials (consumers ages 18 to 35, roughly).

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For McDonald’s, that’s a real crisis—one that will only get worse as time passes and the brand fails to get the help it needs.