McDonald’s spotlights Black Girls Surf to promote ‘Little Mermaid’ tie-up

    • McDonald’s launched a national television commercial as part of its tie-up with Disney’s “The Little Mermaid,” according to a press release. Toys of the film’s characters will be available for a limited time as part of an eponymous Happy Meal.
    • The 30-second ad spotlights Black Girls Surf, a competitive performance training camp, and several of its participants. McDonald’s donated funds to the nonprofit organization, will host a special screening of the film for its members and invited several surfers to the premiere of the film.
    • The campaign, which focuses on inclusivity and inspiration, comes as McDonald’s faces lawsuits over its commitments to Black-owned media. In addition, the new version of “The Little Mermaid” has faced a racist backlash due to the casting of Halle Bailey, who is Black, as main character Ariel.

    In promoting its film tie-in Happy Meal, McDonald’s has chosen to bring “The Little Mermaid” — a story about “wavemakers that dream beyond the surface to break barriers,” per press materials — to real life with a commercial focused on Black Girls Surf, a nonprofit that has provided competitive surf training to girls and women around the world since 2014.

    The ad encourages girls to “dream big” and features surfers Maizy Gordon, Bethany and Anaya Malone, Macie Smith, Olivia Whyms and Penelope “Poppy” Brockhaus. Mostly showing the surfers as they enjoy a day surfing at the beach, the spot includes just a brief shot from the film and quick glances at the Happy Meal and toy, keeping the ad focused on its purpose-driven element.

    Along with the national TV commercial, McDonald’s has extended its partnership with Black Girls Surf by way of a donation and experiences for the organization’s members around the film’s premiere and a screening. Press materials align the new effort with previous initiatives that seek to uplift communities and drive representation, including Black and Positively Golden Change Leaders and Spotlight Dorado.

    Such purpose-driven efforts around diversity and inclusion come as McDonald’s again faces lawsuits by media entrepreneur Byron Allen alleging a refusal to advertise with Black-owned media. The new lawsuit is in addition to a previous $10 billion federal suit by Allen claiming the chain’s advertising policies violated federal and California civil rights laws. McDonald’s has described the suits as a “public smear campaign.”

    McDonald’s in May 2021 announced plans to double investments in diverse media partners as part of a plan to improve representation. The company says it is “on track to meet or exceed” a commitment of 5% of total Black-owned marketing investments by 2024 and plans to update its progress in a July report, per an Ad Age report.

    Meanwhile, the tie-up aligns McDonald’s with a film that has faced its own race-based controversy, with the film becoming the target of racist trolling that began when Disney in 2019 announced the casting of Halle Bailey as Ariel. The McDonald’s campaign with Black Girls Surf is in line with the inclusivity of Disney’s casting of a Black actress as one of its most iconic princesses, but comes at a time when brand marketing is increasingly subsumed by culture war battles around race, gender and other political issues.


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