Why McDonald's Gay Ad in France Pissed Off... Wait for it... Gays

Last Updated Jun 8, 2010 2:26 PM EDT

It's no surprise that right-wing pundits are in a lather about a French McDonald's ad in which a gay teen and his dad dine at the golden arches. But would you believe it's angered gay-rights groups as well?

It turns out that shortly after the French ad began airing last week, the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce sent McDonald's (MCD) a scathing letter that severed its ties to the company and rejected any future financial support the company might offer. The letter calls the French ad "blatant geographic pandering to the LGBT community... while McDonald's has continued to distance itself from the LGBT segment in the United States." It turns out that though McDonald's had a seat on the NHLCC's board, tensions have simmered between McDonald's and the organization for some time. The letter relates that the group's interactions with the company were "truly taxing" in 2008, but that an attempt at mending fences was made in 2009, when McDonald's sponsored the group's annual National Dinner.

While some might see the French ad as a step forward in reaching out to the community, the fact that the ad is French-only enraged the NGLCC.

"The French TV ad has truly been the last straw," the group wrote. "To allow people to believe that McDonald's is the kind of partner portrayed in this ad would be a complete failure on our part to serve as an honest and trusted resource for LGBT people and our families to help make informed decisions in the marketplace."

The group has been pressing McDonald's to present a concrete action plan on how it planned to reach out and engage the American gay and lesbian consumer, without response. NGLCC writes that McDonald's declined to sign on to any of the organization's initiatives this year. For contrast, Macy's (M) is an out-front supporter of gay rights with its signature big balloons floating in Pride parades nationwide, and a Pride + Joy Web site that ties to numerous in-store events and features such as same-sex gift registries. It's worth noting that with a more out-front stance stateside, Macy's isn't the subject of backlash from either side of the fence.

With the French ad, NGLCC feels it got its answer on the fast-food giant's real position -- that McDonald's would keep dancing around the issue of gay outreach in the U.S. while trying to score points in more tolerant places. Uh-uh.

"We sincerely hope that McDonald's will reconsider its position and that the company will again show its support for LGBT people, our families and our businesses -- not just where it is politically expedient, but around the globe," NGLCC wrote.

So far, the NGLCC has received no response from McDonald's, which NGLCC spokeswoman Felicity Powers says got the letter Friday.

It seems like the French ad is turning into a lose-lose situation for McDonald's, angering those on both sides of the fence. American gays and lesbians feel shunned that the ad is only airing in France, while the American right is baffled and disturbed that it aired at all, anywhere. It's a cautionary tale on what can happen when a company doesn't back up their marketing position with real action in stores and in the community. A company can't really position itself as a little gay-friendly, but only around the edges.

Photo via Flickr user Simone Ravella Related:
  • Carol Tice

    Carol Tice is a longtime business reporter whose work has appeared in Entrepreneur, The Seattle Times, and Nation's Restaurant News, among others. Online sites she's written for include Allbusiness.com and Yahoo!Hotjobs. She blogs about the business of writing at Make a Living Writing.

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