Fast food giant McDonalds is the latest big brand to suffer a PR disaster after releasing what’s fast become known as the ‘dead dad’ advert.

As examples of PR mistakes go it doesn’t really get much worse.

McDonalds pulled the ad today after being accused of using childhood grief to sell fish sandwiches. Not a great moment for the brand’s marketing team. They also issued an apology saying it had never been their intention to offend anyone. It seems no one realised that using grief to shift fish could cause upset.

The 90 second advert was made by creative agency Leo Burnett London. Creatives are under pressure to come up with new ideas every day and what can seem edgy and innovative in the environment of an office brainstorm doesn’t always play out the way envisioned when it transfers to reality.

This is clearly an idea that should never have seen the light of day. It doesn’t take a PR genius to work out that exploiting the grief of a bereaved child to sell fast food isn’t the best way for a brand to position itself.

Unlike the recent Pepsi PR gaffe this one wasn’t delivered in house but was the work of an external agency. With Pepsi many from the agency world were basking in schadenfreude at seeing an in house team screw up and many were quick to cite the mistake as an example of why brands should bring in external comms to ensure misjudgements were minimised.

The same can’t be said this time. Instead we must reflect that all humans make mistakes. Agencies must ensure that their creative processes include the checks and balances of honest feedback and that all team members, no matter how junior, feel able to question the ideas of those above them in the agency hierarchy.

Agencies must take steps to ensure that an Emperor’s New Clothes culture doesn’t take hold within teams. This means an atmosphere where colleagues dare not voice opinions for fear of being perceived as negative or stupid.

At London PR we always say there’s no such thing as a bad idea in a brainstorm. This means that anything goes during the creative process and all ideas will be heard and welcomed. Knowing that they won’t be shouted down or ridiculed for ideas means all team members can throw things out there confident that their input will be respected and listened to.

But that doesn’t mean all the ideas will be good. Rather it means that sometimes you have to work through a bad idea to transform it into a great one. The golden rule is that all ideas go on the board but the weak ones don’t go forward from there into the planning stages. Only the strongest ideas, agreed by all the team, go forward to the client.

I’d be willing to bet that someone at Leo Burnett London must have felt uneasy over the dead dad concept. Either they felt unable to speak up or their words of caution went unheeded. Either way it’s ended with a disaster for the agency and some serious egg (McMuffin) on the face for McDonalds.

More reaction here.

ENDS

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