Burger van’s Madeleine McCann advert: why was Otley Burger Company social media ad banned and what did it say?

Madeleine McCann’s image was used in an advert deemed ‘offensive’ by the advertising regulator (images: PA) Madeleine McCann’s image was used in an advert deemed ‘offensive’ by the advertising regulator (images: PA)
Madeleine McCann’s image was used in an advert deemed ‘offensive’ by the advertising regulator (images: PA) | PA
The Advertising Standards Authority called on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter to remove the advert

The disappearance of Madeleine McCann on a family holiday to Portugal 15 years ago is still at the fore of UK public consciousness.

Although the decade-long Metropolitan Police investigation into what is widely believed to be the toddler’s abduction could end later this year, there continues to be huge interest in what happened at the Praia da Luz resort on 3 May 2007.

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Indeed, the identification of Christian Brueckner - a German national who is a convicted paedophile - as a key suspect by the Portuguese authorities has generated headlines across Europe.

Brueckner denies the allegations.

The toddler’s disappearance has also been in the headlines again this week after a takeaway company from West Yorkshire was censured by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) for what were deemed to be “offensive” Mother’s Day adverts featuring Madeleine McCann and her mother, Kate.

But what did the adverts say - and why is one of them still visible on social media?

Kate and Gerry McCann at a press conference in 2007.Kate and Gerry McCann at a press conference in 2007.
Kate and Gerry McCann at a press conference in 2007. | Getty Images

What did The Otley Burger Company advert say?

The social media adverts at the centre of public outcry were published by The Otley Burger Company on Sunday 27 March 2022 to mark Mother’s Day.

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The firm operates as a takeaway trailer in the centre of the West Yorkshire town, which is situated between the cities of Bradford and Leeds.

Its adverts, which were posted on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, show a picture of Kate McCann in front of an image of her missing daughter Madeleine.

(graphic: Mark Hall)(graphic: Mark Hall)
(graphic: Mark Hall) | Mark Hall

A small superimposed image on top of the main photo appears to show a man in black running away with Madeleine McCann.

Above the image is a logo for The Otley Burger Company and falling US Dollar bills, with a phrase that reads: ‘With burgers this good, you’ll leave your kids at home. What’s the worst that could happen.’

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At the bottom it reads: ‘Happy Mother’s Day to all the mums out there.’

Why was the burger van Madeleine McCann advert banned?

The ASA - which regulates all advertising in the UK - banned the adverts on Wednesday (20 April) after completing an investigation sparked by three public complaints about them.

The regulator ruled that they “were likely to cause distress and serious or widespread offence”.

It said it thought the adverts were so concerning that it asked Twitter and Meta to remove the content and suspend the burger company’s account while it carried out its investigation.

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The advert was still visible on Facebook for a limited time on 20 April, but has now been deleted.

While it was still live, the Facebook post had had hundreds of comments, with users describing the advert as “disgusting”, “totally inappropriate” and “vile”.

The Otley Burger Company has hit back online, describing its critics as ‘offended keyboard warriors with cats as profile pictures’ and ‘turnips’ in subsequent Facebook posts.

Twitter said the tweet featuring the advert had been deleted, while it appears The Otley Burger Company’s account has also been taken down.

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According to the ASA, the firm said they “would not use photos of Kate McCann in that manner again or superimpose images of Madeleine McCann being kidnapped”.

It also told the ASA that all the ads had been removed and would not be reused, while the posts were intended as memes rather than advertisements.

On the latter point, the regulator said it was advertising because the image was “connected with the supply or transfer of The Otley Burger Company’s goods and services”.

The ASA ruled that the combination of the “instantly recognisable” images and the timing of the social media posts was “intended to further add to the shock factor and offensive nature” of them.

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"We further considered that any reference to a missing child was likely to be distressing and that in the context of an ad promoting a burger company the distress caused was unjustified," it stated.

The regulator also said the superimposed image of a man running away with Madeleine McCann “made light of a distressing news story”.

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