McDonald’s ad references nat’l tragedies, inspires ‘snarky disbelief’, parodies

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Not everyone is loving McDonald’s newest ad. While some people were moved by the montage of signs outside its restaurants, others thought the notes referencing national tragedies like 9/11 or the Boston bombing were in poorer taste than the ribless McRib.

“For years, McDonald's signs across the country have been used to spread messages of love, hope and respect. This is a collection of some of those signs,” the company said on its YouTube page, introducing the minute-long commercial featuring real messages posted on roadside signs throughout the country. The company also has a Tumblr page devoted to each note’s backstory.

A children's choir sings 'Carry On' by the band .fun as the ad features signs from the personal ‒ like “#prayforDrew” ‒ to the political ‒ “Keep jobs in Toledo” ‒ to the national ‒ “Thank our veterans.”

But it also references tragedies that horrified the nation – including “Boston Strong” after the April 2013 Boston Marathon bombings; “We weep for the Columbia families” after the Space Shuttle Columbia exploded in February 2003; and “We remember 9/11.”

The spot premiered Sunday afternoon during the NFL playoff game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Green Bay Packers, then re-aired during the Golden Globes awards show that night. It’s garnered more than 700,000 views on YouTube.

Viewers took to Twitter to applaud and denounce the montage.

Yet sentiment about the fast-food chain remained “overwhelmingly neutral” based on a comparison of three days ‒ December 28, January 4 (days after the brand-refresh Archenemies campaign launched on YouTube) and Sunday – Adweek reported, citing data from social media vendor Spredfast. That data showed that 10 percent of tweets were negative and two percent were positive, “but positive feedback did dip slightly” with the unveiling of Sunday’s ad.

“McDonald’s is working very hard to rebuild its brand. Over the past couple of years it has taken a ton of hits. This new signs ad is incredibly heartwarming,” Tim Calkins, marketing professor at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, told CNN Money.

Some critics found the ad insincere due to the low wages that many McDonald’s franchise owners choose to pay their employees.

READ MORE:Salary of McDonald's CEO should be slashed, activist shareholders say

“McDonald’s new ad campaign tries to put a fresh face on the same low-wage business model that forces workers to rely on public assistance to make ends meet and that costs taxpayers billions every year,” Kendall Fells, organizing director of Fast Food Forward, said to the Guardian. “There’s no getting around the need for McDonald’s to pay a living wage, and until the company acts, the fast-food workers’ movement will only continue to grow.”

Others found it “tone-deaf” in light of the living-wage protests that have erupted across the globe.

“The overarching message in the ad gives the impression that McDonald's is some kind of exemplary model of corporate kindness,” Roberto Ferdman wrote in the Washington Post’s Wonkblog. “Which is great and all, except for the fact that many people associate McDonald's with just the opposite.”

He called the spot “a disarming minute of mushy corporate propaganda” that inspired social media to “[light] up with snarky disbelief.”

Laura Ries, president of Ries & Ries, a branding consulting firm, said the ad hit a nerve in part because it was unusual for McDonald's, which typically features shots of its food. She thought the ad was effective because it uses the "iconic imagery" of the Golden Arches.

"It's something that everyone has seen on the roads growing up," Ries told the Associated Press.

Deborah Wahl, chief marketing officer for McDonald's USA, told AP that the ad was meant to reflect the company's history in communities, through good times and bad. Leaving out the bad moments would've been dishonest, she said.

She added that it is too early to tell whether the ad was a success, but that the company is trying to engage more with customers and that "good advertising creates emotion."

The ad has already inspired parodies that use misworded and misspelled signs.

McDonald’s has been facing plummeting sales. It is currently running a free coffee promotion for customers in the Washington, DC area on Mondays throughout 2015 in the hopes that caffeine fiends may purchase something to go with their gratis java.