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McDonald's Controversial Ad Pulled

Shanghai Television Station (STV) has stopped running a controversial commercial for McDonald's. Advertising managers at STV said yesterday that they removed the ad on Tuesday at the request of Optimum Media Direction (OMD), McDonald's advertising agency. And on Wednesday, Zhejiang Province also stopped broadcast of the ad as a result of administrative orders from the provincial administration of industry and commerce.

Many cities and provinces which had aired the commercial previously have also stopped screening it since June 17, including Shenzhen, Chengdu, Tianjin, Xiamen, Xi'an and Henan Province.

The 30-second TV commercial in question features a middle-aged Chinese man getting down on his knees to beg for a discount from a video storeowner. The voice-over says: "McDonald's understands people are sad when they miss a good opportunity, so the company is offering discounts 365 days a year."

Although the shot of the customer on his knees lasts for less than five seconds, it triggered strong opposition from consumers.

"It is an insult to consumers," said Yuan Genbao, a Shanghai resident. "The shot makes us feel as if McDonald's is giving alms to customers by offering discounted products, just like showing mercy to beggars."

"What a shame the commercial portrayed Chinese consumers as willing to bend to such petty interests!" said a lady surnamed Yuan, who complained to a consumer's petition hotline.

Jiang Zhibin, dean of the advertising department at Shanghai International Studies University, said the ad was inappropriate as it ignored traditional Chinese culture and thinking.

"Getting down on one's knees is always considered humiliating and something that represents indignity for most Chinese," Jiang said. "That scene will make people wonder if there is any implication of unfairness between the company and consumers," he added.

Jiang also said that the commercial shows disrespect for China's cultural traditions, even if advertising laws haven't set clear rules on the matter.

In a written statement sent to Shanghai Daily on Tuesday, McDonald's (China) Co Ltd regretted any possible misunderstanding that the ad might have caused among consumers.

"We meant to inform consumers that McDonald's would offer delicious food to our customers all year round by adopting humorous and attractive techniques," the statement said.

But, as it turns out, many people in Xi'an, Chengdu and Shanghai found the ad neither humorous nor attractive.

A cartoon published in retaliation in Wednesday's Guangzhou Evening News depicted Ronald McDonald pressing a man's head against the golden arches with a twisted expression. The caption read: "McDonald's humor is 'discounted' this time."

A representative from McDonald's Henan Province's branch Wang Yun said that the ad was approved by the authorities. But, Qiu Xiaolian, a staff member at the relevant authority, the China Advertising Association, said that they had asked McDonald's to cut the "offending" scene. However, it was merely a request because the association, being a non-governmental organization, has no legal standing to make orders.

(Xinhua News Agency, Shanghai Daily, China.org.cn June 23, 2005)

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