The ad, which has been produced by the US-based Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, isn't exactly backwards in coming forwards. If the basic image wasn't offensive enough, the final few seconds feature the McDonald’s golden arches along with the words ‘I was loving it’. Ouch. As you'd expect, Maccy D’s is rather annoyed about this: it has condemned the ad as 'outrageous, misleading and unfair to all consumers’, while insisting that it ‘trusts our customers to put such outlandish propaganda in perspective, and to make food and lifestyle choices that are right for them’. And personally, we're inclined to agree that we should be free to eat the odd Big Mac from time to time without being told that it's going to kill us.
The timing and placement of the campaign (it will initially be aired in the Washington DC area) are no doubt related to Michelle Obama’s decision to make nutrition one of her signature issues. But we can’t help but feel blaming McDonald’s for US obesity is a bit like holding car manufacturers responsible for traffic jams – it misses the point somewhat. Surely the real issue is educating customers, rather than pointing the fingers at individual chains?
Besides, McDonald's is hardly the only fast food outlet in the world, or the only place to serve food that's not very good for you. And in fact, it's been doing more than most to encourage healthier behaviour, particularly in the wake of all the bad publicity that followed the release of the 2004 film ‘Supersize Me’, including introducing salad (we’ll gloss over the fact the dressings contain more calories than their burgers) and fruit options. It has also influenced its marketing: its ‘YumChums’ characters encourage children to get more active, and it was even a partner of the ‘Active for 60 minutes a day’ campaign. The least it can do, you might argue - but surely better than nothing, nevertheless.
Still, they say that those who laugh last, laugh loudest – and given that McDonald’s saw its profits rise by 12% to $2.3bn in the six months to June, it looks its customers are voting with their feet.