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Olympic Brand Sponsorship Race

Olympic Brand Sponsorship Race- Why is McDonald’s Underperforming?

August 6, 2012

The Olympics is a time of sport, athleticism, and competition. However, it is not just athletes who are competing, but the brands sponsoring the event are also involved in their own brand race. Whilst many are tuning in to see which athlete will win a gold medal, others are on the look out to see which brand sponsoring the Olympics will come out on top. Due to the prominence of social media in the 2012 Games, this has created a new way to measure how much each brand has benefited from their sponsorship of the games.

Mediacom has created an Olympic tracker which gives daily and weekly updates about each Olympic brand’s twitter tracker score, measuring the amount of positive or negative sentiment felt towards each brand.   

Whilst certain brands such as Coca-Cola and PG tips are consistently performing well, McDonalds has been trailing behind. McDonald’s has been languishing at the bottom of the table for some time now, with scores of between minus 70,000 to 100,000. Last week saw a further increase in negative sentiment towards the brand with their tracker score reaching lower than minus 1m.

So why is McDonald’s so far behind on the Olympic tracker?

McDonald’s was first hit by concerns about junk food as was Cadbury, and Coca Cola.  These brands’ association with the Olympic games was seen as sending the wrong message, due to their being  poor examples of how to stay healthy. An article published in the Lancet, a medical journal, stated that ‘the Games should encourage physical activity, promote healthy living, and inspire the next generation to exercise. However, marring this healthy vision has been the choice of junk food and drink giants, – McDonald’s, Coca-Cola and Cadbury – as major sponsors.”

Despite Cadbury and Coca- Cola also presenting a concern in relation to their sponsorship of the games, they have remained relatively unscathed. Coca-Cola’s sponsorship of the Olympic torch and their ‘feel the beat’ campaign has generated a significant amount of positive feedback, as has Cadburys ‘ Unwrap Gold’ promotion, which gives consumers the chance to win tickets to watch the Olympics.

Background to McDonald’s sponsorship

McDonald’s decided to become a sponsor of the Games 40 years ago as a way to deflect criticism about the health impact of their products. This strategy seems to be doing more harm than good this year, with numerous people commenting on Twitter about the contradictory nature of McDonald’s involvement in the Olympics, with the most popular comparison being that it is like a cigarette company sponsoring a cancer charity.

However, the way McDonalds have responded to these concerns has attracted increased criticism.  The predominant concern with McDonald’s involvement in the Olympics is that this will give people a misleading impression about the quality of McDonald’s food.

The problem with McDonald’s campaign appears to be two-fold. Firstly, despite McDonald’s efforts to turn their image around from being fatty and unhealthy, this has not yet influenced how the majority of the public perceive the brand. Secondly, the social nature of the games gives people a much bigger platform to voice their concerns, meaning it is more vital than ever to align the brand image McDonald’s believes it has, to the way others see it.

The way McDonald’s sees itself is as providing good food, being environmentally friendly, and as being a fun place for families to eat. Yet, the public regard McDonald’s food as unhealthy and as being high in salt, and fat. Therefore McDonald’s sponsorship of the games, and adverts depicting various athletes eating their food, is perceived as misleading. People throw negative comments at the brand on the grounds that no Olympian would have eaten a McDonald’s for at least a year.

McDonald’s has had some positive feedback about its initiatives to provide calorie content and nutritional information about all their food.  Also, their offering of a fruit, vegetable and low-fat dairy option with their happy meals served at the games has gone down well. These all do signal a step in the right direction for the brand.  However, until their reputation has been substantially altered, strategies aimed at calling the brand ‘healthy’ will be seen as deceptive.

Boris’ Plug

Take, for example, the reaction against Boris’s plugging of the brand. Defending the fast-food giant against criticism, Boris said ‘It’s all just bourgeois snobbery. It’s classic liberal hysteria about very nutritious, delicious food- extremely good for you I’m told- not that I eat a lot of it myself. Apparently the stuff is absolutely bursting with nutrients’.

The negative reaction produced by this statement was then amplified when Frankie Boyle on Twitter, who has over 800,000 followers, commented ‘Don’t know how much sponsorship McDonalds paid for the Olympic mayor to be a f***ing clown.”

These comments stirred up negative opinion about McDonald’s association with the Olympics, and made the public feel that they were being miss-sold the brand, especially due to Boris’s admission that he does not eat much of the food himself.


Whilst the values a brand believes in and wants to reflect are important, this has to be aligned with the perception of the brand by others. Denying what the public perceive and insisting on promoting a certain image before the public is convinced there has been a change can backfire and cause a bad reaction as seems to have happened here.