McDonald's Constant Gardiner Museum Ad Is a Matter of Taste
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McDonald’s Constant Gardiner Museum Ad Is a Matter of Taste


Look once, and you might think the Gardiner Museum was testing a tongue-in-cheek advertising campaign for its latest exhibit. Look twice, and you’ll see the golden arches and flashing arrows tempting you to try the new McMini Sandwich with its “not so subtle” flavour. What have we here?


According to Chapter 693 of the Toronto Municipal Code [PDF], it’s an illegal sign. The city bylaw bans portable signs that do not belong to the business on whose property the sign is displayed (§ 693-18 B[4]), as well as portable signs that are “animated, illuminated, [or] have flashing lights” (§ 693-18 C[3]).
According to the Gardiner, it’s a piece of revenue-generating advertising that supports the museum’s programs without offending its mission and vision. With less money for the museum’s programming, the Gardiner has looked to proposals from advertising agencies for extra funding.
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The Gardiner has agreed to host other outdoor ads in the past, including one for the Visa “Go” campaign (and McDonald’s has placed 3D ads elsewhere before). While the Gardiner ads are always located outside the exhibition areas, the advertiser otherwise chooses where to place it—in this case, right between two “What’s On” posters for the Gardiner.
The Gardiner doesn’t deal with the issue of city permits or legality; presumably, that’s left to the advertising agency representing McDonald’s. Sadly, McDonald’s would not return our calls on Tuesday. [UPDATE, April 10, 2:30 a.m.: McDonald’s returned our call on Friday: the creative agency behind the ad is Cossette, the placement agency is OMD, and the same ad is also on display in Montreal—and, possibly, Vancouver.]
Mary-Margaret Jones, a public relations consultant speaking on behalf of the Gardiner, called the installation “tasteful,” “not garish,” and “not as rankling” as other forms of outdoor advertising. Truth be told, this seems an odd stance to take on an always on, act-now advertising campaign that uses big arrows and flashing neon lights to draw attention to itself. But hey—if you don’t try the McMini, at least you can ponder the uneasy marriage between art and advertising because of this illegal, not-so-subtle sign.
Photos and video by David Topping/Torontoist.

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