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Skittles and McDonald's Pull 'Upsetting' Ads -- Was It the Right Call?

By Published on .

Two big brands, Skittles and McDonald's, recently debuted ads that got people talking, but not in a good way. So naturally, the marketers pulled the spots.

Wrigley-owned Skittles put out a super weird Mother's Day commercial to rival its entire legacy of bizarre comedy work. On YouTube it posted the ad about a mother and her adult son with especially close ties: They were tethered together by an overgrown umbilical cord, which enabled the son to enjoy the flavor of whatever Skittles his mom was enjoying at the moment.

Our own staff had mixed feelings ranging from "gross" to "love it." The reactions mirrored the rest of the world and media -- some appreciated the next-level weird, while others described it with words like "horrifying," "can't unsee" and "deeply cooked."

Some observers also noted that the ad, created out of DDB Chicago and titled "Umbilical," bore a questionably extreme likeness to a horror short from director Charles Pieper, "Umbilical Jim," who told Ad Age, "I was shocked by the similarities as everyone else. I tweeted at Skittles about it a little snarkily and got no response. I'm sure Skittles/the production company that made the commercial can argue it's just parallel thinking but the fact that it is framed and shot so similarly to what my crew and I did in our short does concern."

In any case, Skittles went on to pull the ad from YouTube and issued a statement from Matt Montei, senior director of confections, Wrigley U.S.: "We made this video for every mom who likes gross jokes, and we took it down for every mom who doesn't. We hope all moms enjoyed a Happy Mother's Day." A spokesperson added the removal had nothing to do with "Umbilical Jim."

Meanwhile, across the pond, McDonald's and Leo Burnett London recently debuted another parent-and-child-focused ad (above), about a mother who helps a young boy learn about his deceased father and in one scene, reminisces about the dad's love for Filet-o-Fish. It also drew a slew of complaints from consumers, who slammed it for exploiting children and for its insensitivity toward bereaving families.

The ad also gave consumers an easy opening to slam the actual product.

McDonald's responded with plans to withdraw the ad this week from all media, including TV and cinema, according to the client. Due to broadcaster restrictions on lead times, the last ad will air tomorrow, May 17.

"It was never our intention to cause any upset," McDonald's said in a statement. "We are particularly sorry that the advert may have disappointed those people who are most important to us -- our customers … We will also review our creative process to ensure this situation never occurs again."

Again, the Ad Age team was divided on this one. Some found it opportunistic, while others could easily relate, seeing how a connection to a lost loved one could be found in the smallest and most mundane of things.

The ads come on the heels of perhaps the most monumental ad fail of the era, Pepsi's Kendall Jenner spot, and at a time when consumers can easily call out marketer missteps through social media. They also suggest that perhaps marketers should tread cautiously, especially when it comes to messages around the parent-child bond -- or should they? Readers, what do you think? Should Skittles and McDonald's have pulled their spots?

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