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Burger chain’s Madeline McCann abduction ad banned by ASA after ‘meme’ defense fails

By John Glenday | Reporter



banned ads article

April 19, 2022 | 4 min read

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has intervened to ban an irresponsible Mother’s Day ad by The Otley Burger Company for making light of the disappearance of Madeline McCann.

The watchdog threw the book at the business as a warning to others willing to cause harm and/or offence to others in pursuit of scandal. The social media campaign was pushed across Twitter, Instagram and Facebook by the catering business on Mother’s Day.


The ASA declared the ads as liable to cause ‘unjustified distress’ and ‘serious and widespread offence’

The offending posts reproduced an image of missing child Madeline McCann and her mother Kate with the words: “With burgers this good, you’ll leave your kids at home. What’s the worst that could happen.”

In the background, a costumed thief was depicted carrying off a smaller image of Madeline in his hands.

These posts drew three complaints from those who saw the content, sparking a broader backlash from the social media providers directly, with both Meta and Twitter taking steps to remove the ads and place restrictions on the account responsible.

In its assessment, the regulator wrote: “We considered these elements further trivialized the circumstances surrounding Madeleine’s disappearance and made light of a distressing news story concerning reports of child abduction and serious crime.

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“We noted that the ads were all posted on 27 March 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.”

In response, The Otley Burger Company attempted to assert that the image was a meme and could not be considered advertising as it contained no product placement.

Dismissing this defense, the ASA countered that the ads appeared in a non-paid-for space that was directly under the advertiser’s control and moreover directly referenced its goods services, fitting the definition of marketing communications.

Declaring the ads as liable to cause “unjustified distress” and “serious and widespread offence,” the ASA ordered that they must not appear again.

This is not the first attempt to capitalize on the notoriety of the infamous case for commercial gain, with an online voucher site having previously come unstuck for its cold-hearted appropriation of the case to sell holidays to Portugal.

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