Brow Beat

Cringe-Worthy French McDonald’s Ads Try, Fail to Poke Fun at Americans

An example of McDonald France’s cutting-edge, relevant American satire.

Screenshot from McDonald’s ad

Eater this week draws our attention to a series of McDonald’s TV spots that have been running in France since November. The ads promote limited-edition burgers made with American-style bread, since everyone knows that if there’s one thing America does better than France, it’s bread. One of the sandwiches is a cheeseburger served on a bagel, an emphatically non-kosher combination that seems particularly nonsensical given the bagel’s proud Jewish heritage. As hamfisted (sorry) as that culinary mashup is, the commercial for the sandwich is even worse than the sandwich itself:

The first part of the narration translates roughly to, “The new Grand Bagel Cheese has arrived at McDonald’s with a bagel bun, two beef patties, and melted cheese. But be careful! It’s so good that even Americans want to taste it.” Then the burly hockey player skates in and tries to steal the burger.

The first question that comes to mind is: Why is the floor of this library made of ice? That doesn’t seem like a very conducive environment for preserving books. My second question: Where are McDonald’s French copywriters getting their images of American pop culture? As Eater’s Paula Forbes points out, hockey isn’t an American stereotype at all. (“That’s Canada, guys,” she rightly notes.) And the archetype of the American bully is as tired as our notion of the French as “cheese-eating surrender monkeys.” 

The other two commercials in the series are just as baffling and just as bad as the first. In one of them, a lifeguard clearly modeled after Pamela Anderson on Baywatch—a show that was canceled more than 12 years ago—emerges from a pond (!) to demand (in a weirdly lilting Valley Girl cadence) a Frenchman’s “Double Shiny Bacon” sandwich. (Apparently, the most notable attribute of American hamburger buns is their shininess.)

In the other—the one that most closely approximates political satire—two state troopers on motorcycles accost a trio of young loiterers to order them to relinquish their “Double Cornbread Barbecue” burgers. (These sandwiches, which feature barbecue sauce and a cornbread bun, have many fans on Twitter, according to a French website called meltyFood).

Perhaps the ads are a fitting tribute to the sandwiches they promote: Both are nonsensical amalgams of invented, or misunderstood, tidbits of American culture. Still, I can’t help but feel somewhat smug knowing that French creative directors can be just as oblivious and inept as their American counterparts.