McDonald’s viral ad upsets food lobbyists

McDonald’s is courting controversy with an online video ad promoting its new range of McDonald’s Toasted Deli Sandwiches.

In the ad, which is a pastiche of a US positive thinking infomercial, a presenter with a bad haircut tells viewers to “visualise” the lunch hour they deserve and “see yourself alive, vital, bright, invincible… Feel the energy in your body”. The ad’s Web address is www.unleashthehour.co.uk.

Charlie Powell, campaign co-ordinator for food lobby group Sustain, says/ “If this were a television ad, we would certainly consider putting in a complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority. But companies know they can get away with making the most outrageous claims on the internet – it seems to be completely unregulated.”

The Advertising Standards Authority’s remit only covers certain kinds of online advertising. Claims made in ads that are run on a company’s own site are classified as editorial, and therefore outside the ASA’s remit. However, if McDonald’s were to actively distribute the video as a viral attachment, or pay to have the video run on another company’s website, then it would come under the ASA’s jurisdiction.

Complaints about the lack of clarity surrounding the regulation of online and viral advertising have been around for some time. The ASA’s Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) is to discuss the issue at a meeting at the end of September, and it is expected that the ASA will extend its remit to cover all forms of online advertising.

Recently, Vivendi Universal Games was slammed by the ASA over a viral video and e-mail campaign promoting its PlayStation game Cold Winter (MW August 18). The promotion involved e-mails with an attached video clip showing a character apparently being tortured in a Chinese prison.

Because the viral was distributed by Vivendi as an e-mail, the ASA had jurisdiction over the campaign. Consumers complained that the contents were offensive and disturbing. The ASA agreed and warned Vivendi not to use the same tactics again, and told it to consult the CAP before making similar ads.

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