Will McDonald's Dare Run Its Gay TV Ad in the U.S.? History Suggests Not

Last Updated Jun 7, 2010 6:31 PM EDT

Who controls McDonald's (MCD)'s advertising, Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly or McD's CEO Jim Skinner? That will be an interesting question in the weeks to come following O'Reilly's insistence that the burger chain will not run a gay themed TV ad in the U.S. (video below).

O'Reilly made the claim in a recent broadcast in which he highlighted a French McDonald's commercial that shows a father and son sharing a meal in one of the restaurants as they look at the kid's class photo. "Too bad your class is all boys," the father says, "you could get all the girls." We can tell by the boy's face that he's gay and his dad is clueless. The ad is part of raft of commercials with the theme "come as you are" that are intended to demonstrate that Le Royale with Cheese is for everyone, no matter how mismatched.

O'Reilly said:

Alright, so look, they want to make a political statement selling burgers. They're entitled to it. It will never run in the USA. They'll never do that.
There's an interesting discussion to be had about why conservative Catholics like O'Reilly spend so much time worrying about homosexuals, but let's put that aside and concentrate on the business problem this presents for McDonald's -- or indeed any manager who may be considering including some "diversity" in his or her marketing.

The company just lost its chief marketing officer, Mary Dillon, to U.S. Cellular, so the decision on whether to air a U.S.-version of BETC Euro RSCG's ad could well involve CEO Skinner. He has two choices:

  1. Decline to air the ad: and the company appears to be siding with its homophobic critics. McDonald's job is to sell burgers to everyone; it doesn't want to be seen discriminating. Besides, making moral judgments about its customers' private lives is completely off-strategy for the company.
  2. Air the ad: and risk a PR firestorm. Conservatives have felt empowered recently with the rise of the Tea Party and the decline in President Obama's popularity. The liberal-elite-burger-media-industrial complex shoving alternative lifestyles (and fries) down your throat could make an easy target. Again, these divisions aren't about the food, so Skinner may decide to skip the distraction ...
... which puts Skinner and McDonald's back at choice No. 1, thus proving O'Reilly right.

Given the history of how difficult it is to air an ad featuring gays in the U.S., choice No.1 is actually the likely outcome.