June 22, 2010 -- A gay business advocacy group is charging McDonald's with hypocrisy after the global fast food giant aired a gay-themed commercial in France.
"They were looking to portray themselves as an advocate of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community or an ally ... when it was completely counter to what their actions here in the U.S. were," said Justin Nelson, the president and co-founder of the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce. "It's completely hypocritical."
In an e-mail, a McDonald's rejected the criticism.
"McDonald's has supported a variety of programs and initiatives. We have an employee network -- The McDonald's Gay, Lesbian & Allies Network," the company said.
In the 45-second spot, a young man is shown in a McDonald's restaurant, admiring a picture of his all-male class and speaking in French to a classmate on a cell phone, telling him he misses him. The man hangs up once his father, carrying a tray of food, arrives at the table.
The father, evidently clueless about his son's phone conversation, takes a look at the class photo and remarks how, if only his son's class was co-ed, he "could get all the girls" -- prompting a faint smile from his son.
The spot ends with the phrase "come as you are," in French, flashing on the screen before the McDonald's logo appears.
After it went viral, the commercial elicited a variety of reactions. One gay blog questioned how an ad about a "closeted boy" serves the gay community, while Fox News cable channel host Bill O'Reilly asked jokingly whether McDonald's had an al Qaeda ad that also encouraged customers to "come as you are."
In a recent interview with The Chicago Tribune, McDonald's chief of operations Don Thompson said the controversy over the French ad in the United States was an example of how "markets, cultures are very different around the world." The ad, he said, would not be airing in the United States.
In its e-mail to ABCNews.com, the company added that the "commercial was produced in France for the French market. This is not a global ad and French-made TV ads don't run in the U.S., just as our company in France wouldn't run an ad from the U.S."
"Each of our 117 markets around the world determines their own path on advertising and marketing, which is nothing new at McDonald's. Advertising has always varied around the world," the company said.
'Double-Speak' in McDonald's Commercial?
Contrary to some online reports, Nelson said the NGLCC isn't offended that the commercial won't be broadcast on U.S. airwaves -- it's frustrated that it was broadcast at all, given McDonald's recent history with the NGLCC.
For McDonald's to "continue to distance themselves (from the gay community) here in the states and run an ad like that in another country -- it just seemed to be a double standard or double speak," he said.
Nelson said McDonald's pulled support from the NGLCC -- which claims to represent 1.4 million LGBT-owned businesses in the U.S. -- after the American Family Association launched a boycott in 2008 of McDonald's franchises.
At the time, the conservative Christian group had been calling for McDonald's executive Richard Ellis to step down from his position as an NGLCC board member.
Ellis did later resign his chamber post, but McDonald's officials said public pressure had nothing to do with it. Ellis, the company said, left McDonald's U.S. operation to work in McDonald's Canada business.
The following year, Nelson said, McDonald's asked to be among the $10,000 sponsors of the chamber's annual national dinner. He said the chamber agreed, but only on the condition that McDonald's later produce a plan demonstrating how it would engage with the LGBT community through actions such as using LGBT suppliers or implementing anti-discrimination programs in the workplace.
Months later, Nelson said the chamber is still waiting for McDonald's to provide such a plan. This, combined with the French commercial, led the chamber to send an angry letter, dated June 3, to McDonald's vice chairman and CEO James Skinner.
The letter dismissed the ad as "blatant geographic pandering" and called on McDonald's to "show suppport for LGBT people, our families and our businesses -- not just where it is politcally expedient, but around the globe."