A Leeds-based burger company has been castigated for a social media campaign which used images of missing Madeleine McCann and her mother Kate – alongside a man seemingly abducting the child – to promote Mother’s Day food, under the headline “With burgers this good, you’ll leave your kids at home. What’s the worst that could happen?”
The Otley Burger Company ad was posted on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, sparking complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority which challenged whether the ads were likely to cause distress and serious or widespread offence.
On receiving the complaints, the ASA believed the content to be of such a concern that it asked the relevant social media platforms to remove the content and suspend the account pending our investigation. None of the platforms had even noticed.
In response, the Otley Burger Company said it would not use photos of Kate McCann in that manner again or superimpose images of Madeleine McCann being kidnapped. It said that all ads had been removed and would not be appearing again. However, it insisted that the image was a meme and there was no product placement, so it was not advertising.
Facebook parent Meta said it had reviewed the content in the Instagram post and had removed it for violating its policies. It added that it had undertaken a broader review of the Instagram account, removed further content and placed restrictions on the account. Twitter said the tweet had been deleted.
In its ruling, the ASA stated: “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.”
It also ruled that the text and images further trivialised the circumstances surrounding Madeleine’s disappearance and made light of a distressing news story concerning reports of child abduction and serious crime.
As for the timing of the posts, on Mother’s Day, the ASA ruled that this was intended to further add to the shock factor and offensive nature of the ads. It 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.
Banning the posts on the grounds that the ads were likely to cause unjustified distress and serious and widespread offence, the ASA warned The Otley Burger Company over future activity.
However, The Otley Burger Company’s owner, Joe Scholey, has refused to apologise, claiming each wave of attention has resulted in more sales even though he admitted to receiving death threats.
Defending his actions, Scholey told The Metro: “I’m not taking the mick out of a missing toddler. I’m basically putting, Happy Mother’s Day to all the mums. She [Kate McCann] is a mum. Not the world’s greatest mum and not the world’s worst. She’s a mum, there’s one there.”
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