Posts on The Otley Burger Company’s social media accounts on March 27 read: “Burgers for dinner?” above images of Madeleine and her mother Kate McCann, with further text stating: “With burgers this good, you’ll leave your kids at home. What’s the worst that could happen.”
In the background a man was shown running with a smaller image of Madeleine in his hands, followed by the further line: “Happy Mother’s Day to all the mums out there.”
German prosecutors believe Madeleine is dead after she vanished from an apartment in Praia da Luz, Portugal, on May 3 2007, while on holiday with her family, and are investigating a suspect over her murder.
The 43-year-old convicted German child sex offender, currently in prison in his home country, has been named in reports as Christian Brueckner.
The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) received three complaints that the ads were likely to cause distress and serious or widespread offence.
The ASA said it considered the nature of the content to be of such a concern that it asked the relevant social media platforms – Twitter, Instagram and Facebook – to remove the content and suspend the account pending its investigation.
The Leeds-based takeaway has around 7,000 followers on Instagram.
Responding to the complaints, The Otley Burger Company said all the ads had been removed and would not be appearing again.
Meta said they had reviewed the content in the Instagram post and had removed it for violating their policies. They also undertook a broader review of the Instagram account, removed further content and placed restrictions on the account.
Twitter said the tweet had been deleted.
The ASA noted that ads must not contain anything that is likely to cause serious or widespread offence, and advertisers must not use a shocking claim or image merely to attract attention.
The ASA said: “The disappearance of Madeleine McCann had been a high-profile and long-running media story which remained widely known. We considered the images of them would be instantly recognisable to many people.
“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.”
The watchdog added that the text and the image of a man running away with a superimposed photo of Madeleine “further trivialised the circumstances surrounding Madeleine’s disappearance and made light of a distressing news story concerning reports of child abduction and serious crime”.
The Mother’s Day timing of the ad “was likely to have compounded the distress of those who saw the ads, and particularly for those who may have experienced the disappearance of a child”.
The ASA said: “For those reasons, we concluded that the ads were likely to cause unjustified distress and serious and widespread offence.”
It ruled that the ads must not appear again, adding: “We told The Otley Burger Company to ensure they avoided causing serious and widespread offence and distress.”