Burger company’s ‘offensive’ Mother’s Day ad with Madeleine McCann joke banned

A burger company's "offensive" Mother's Day advert making light of Madeleine McCann's disappearance has been banned for causing "unjustified" distress.

The ad for The Otley Burger Company's burger truck saw complaints lodged with watchdogs after it was posted on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter this March.

It asked "Burgers for dinner?", with a picture of Madeleine and mum Kate and more text reading: "With burgers this good, you'll leave your kids alone. What's the worst that could happen.

"Happy Mother's Day to all the mums out there."

A smaller image in the background showed a man running off while carrying Madeleine.

Madeleine disappeared from her family's holiday apartment in the Portuguese resort of Praia da Luz in May 2007.

After receiving three complaints that the ad would likely cause "distress" and "widespread" offence, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) asked social media platforms to remove it.

Moreover, they asked that The Otley Burger Company's accounts be suspended pending an investigation.

The Yorkshire-based company said that all the ads were removed and wouldn't appear again, telling the ASA that it wouldn't use images of Kate or Madeleine again.

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They also argued that it was a "meme" and that, because there was no product placement, it technically wasn't an ad.

The ASA dismissed this, finding the ad to breach rules regarding responsible advertising as well as harm and offence.

A spokesperson for the watchdog explained that the images fell within the scope of their regulation because they appeared in a non-paid-for space and were directly linked to the company's services.

The spokesperson said: "The ad contained an image of the missing child Madeleine McCann and her mother Kate McCann.

"The disappearance of Madeleine McCann had been a high-profile and long-running media story which remained widely known.

"We considered the images of them would be instantly recognisable to many people. We further considered that any reference to a missing child was likely to be distressing, and that in the context of an ad promoting a burger company, the distress caused was unjustified."

The wording of the ad and image of the man running away with Madeleine "further trivialised" the disappearance and "made light of a distressing news story" linked to a serious crime, he added.

The ASA spokesman continued: "We noted that the ads were all posted on March 27, 2022, which was Mother's Day.

"We considered that in combination with the images, the posting of the ads on that date was intended to further add to the shock factor and offensive nature of the ads.

"We also considered it was likely to have compounded the distress of those who saw the ads, and particularly for those who may have experienced the disappearance of a child.

"For those reasons we concluded that the ads were likely to cause unjustified distress and serious and widespread offence."

He added: "The ads must not appear again.

"We told The Otley Burger Company to ensure they avoided causing serious and widespread offence and distress."

Twitter said that the company's tweet had been removed.

Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, said it removed the content for violating their policies. They also reviewed the company's Instagram account, placing restrictions on it and removing more content.

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