Distracted by a poorly crafted ad

I love those demolished cars that have been placed on the medians around town over the last few weeks. They are sober reminders of the fatal consequences of distracted driving.

Looking at those mangled vehicles, it's easy to imagine the pandemonium and horror of the original accident scene and how much sorrow and loss the victims' families felt then and probably still suffer though every day. I take my hat off to those individuals in our city who were responsible for launching the education and enforcement "Driven 2 Distraction?" campaign.

Since distracted driving is such a huge problem these days, maybe the city ought to consider expanding this effort to include harsh reminders at spots where people and bicyclists have been run over. Something like painting outlines of bodies on the sidewalk. In keeping with the wrecked automobiles, it would be more impactful than the officer in the pink bunny costume we see every time the city wants to remind drivers to be on the lookout for pedestrians.

In stark contrast, just this weekend I saw a McDonalds commercial that used distracted driving as a way to peddle its food. In the spot, a family has just picked up their food from the drive-through window. A teenage boy sits behind the wheel while his father seems to be imparting the importance of keeping one's eyes on the road. He provides these instructions as he begins rummaging through the bag of food. Then, for some inexplicable reason, the father "accidentally" waves his lunch in front of the boy's nose.

Personally, I have never had the desire to hold a hamburger in front of a driver's face. But I could be in the minority. The end result is a teenager, guiding 2,000 pounds of rolling metal down the road, distracted by two all-beef patties, special sauce and the rest of the trimmings.

Amusing? Not so much. Socially responsible? Not at all.

I like high-concept advertising as much as the next guy, and maybe even more considering I've forged the majority of my adult career as a copywriter in advertising. That said, I realize I am also more critical of what ends up getting produced than most. And I am quick to realize when I am not the intended audience of an ad message.

But I wonder in this case, who is the intended audience? What is McDonalds really trying to say? More importantly, wasn't anyone in the long, arduous process of getting this commercial produced aware that this isn't an appropriate subject to satirize?

Those outside of advertising don't know how long it takes to make a TV spot, and how many people actually have to approve it before it even gets to your TV. To give you a brief overview, there are usually a few account executives and at least one copywriter/art director team working on the spot. Then there are the ad agency creative directors and upper management who approve the concept. Finally, there are numerous people on the client side who review and revise.

A lot of eyes and hands touch the work. And in the case of this particular commercial, not one person in the chain said, "Um, do we think humorously showing a teenage driver being distracted by our food sends the wrong message?"

Let me take a stab at it: Yes! It sends a lousy message! There are a million ways to sell burgers and fries. Letting people know your food is so tempting it can put your life and the lives of innocent bystanders at risk isn't particularly intelligent or appetizing. In short, a TV spot that focuses on distracted teen drivers as a punch line is lame. But then again, maybe I'm over-thinking it.

I see the effects of distracted driving every day on my commute to and from work. I've ranted about it incessantly, and I will continue to do so because it is an epidemic, and the cure for this social disease is so incredibly simple.

Put down your mobile devices. Put down the McRib. Get your eyes back on the road where they belong. There is a fundamental reason the DMV doesn't give driver's licenses to people who cannot see. They realize that you need to be watching the road in order to drive safely. It's not rocket science.

And I guess if McDonalds wants to make light of distracted driving, perhaps the city ought to consider another education and awareness campaign aimed at making citizens healthier. Maybe the medians outside McDonalds could have gargantuan defibrillators as a way to remind distracted diners about the dangers of supersizing their value meals while breathing.

GARY HUERTA is a Glendale resident and author. He is currently working on his second novel and the second half of his life. Gary may be reached at gh@garyhuerta.com.

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