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6 Controversial Commercials McDonald's Doesn't Want You to Remember

These tasteless McDonald’s ads came with a side of yuck.

Over the years, McDonald's has released dozens of great commercials (The Larry Bird vs. Michael Jordan shoot-out commercials, anyone?) but there have also been a few controversial McDonald's commercials that the fast-food giant would surely prefer were not so memorable. Here are eight spots that will make you cringe, scratch your head, purse your lips, and/or ask: "What were they thinking with that one?"

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The "dead dad" ad from across the pond

The dead dad ad from across the pond

This commercial, released in the UK, was a craven attempt to sell fast-food by making a heart-wrenching mini-movie about a widow and her son reflecting on their lost husband and father, respectively, over a tartar-sauce laden Filet-O-Fish sandwich from McD's. The spot drew immediate ire and outrage from viewers and made news far and wide for how tone-deaf it was.

The sexy Tomato McGrand

The sexy Tomato McGrand

Following the classic "sex sells" approach, this ad features a seductive, scantily clad woman gallivanting around in outfits reminiscent of the red, yellow, and white garb of McD's clown Ronald McDonald, then briefly holding up a Tomato McGrand Cheeseburger. The ad was released in Japan, where admittedly there are different cultural norms for media, but to an American audience, it's odd and overly sexualized for the topic.

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Sexist Dutch spot

sexist mcdonalds as

This Dutch McDonald's commercial ended up being banned, and it's little wonder why. The ad shows a family going through their day with the dad repeatedly sighing out an exasperated "Hello" or "Hallo," in Dutch, rather—as he shells out cash for various purchases. Then, at the end of the ad, suddenly his "Hallo!" is happy as he pays for food at a McDonald's. But then we see he is not looking at the family's meals, but instead he is ogling the cashier. That's the whole "joke" here, and it's a poor one.

The Arch Deluxe ads

McDonald's Arch Deluxe
Andrew Selvaggio/YouTube

While perhaps not controversial to the wider TV audience, we can only imagine how much the many Arch Deluxe ads from the mid-1990s make McDonald's executives wince today. The series of ads (some of which featured a young Jessica Biel) were but one arm of a massive marketing campaign for the new McD's burger, a menu item that would soon be synonymous with massive failure.

Calvin got a job

Calvin got a job ad

These ads, a series of which ran in the 1990s, are gut-wrenching to watch today. The premise is that a young Black boy living in the inner city makes his life better by getting a job at McDonald's, which is already on the line. What makes the ads horribly racist is how so many other African Americans are depicted in the ads. Several of the young man's erstwhile peers openly mock his new employment, for example. And news of his promotion to management seems to shock the community, implying they had no faith in him in life.

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The Trump-Grimace Ticket

mcdonalds trump ad

When it came out decades ago, this commercial, in which former president Donald Trump shills for the McDonald's Big & Tasty burger selling for just a buck, was not controversial. Then, Trump was just a New York City real estate guy willing to slap his name on anything and to appear in ads for almost any brand. Today, Trump has become one of the most polarizing people on the planet, and seeing this once trite but harmless ad is enough to make some people smile, while others will gag.

Steven John
Steven John is a freelancer writer for Eat This, Not That! based just outside New York City. Read more about Steven