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Olympic Food and Drink Sponsors: Some Not “Lovin’ It”

Should properties only accept sponsors whose brand images align exactly with their values? Last week, the London Assembly gave their answer: when it comes to the Olympics, absolutely.

At their most recent meeting, the governmental body called for a ban on Olympic “junk food” sponsors — McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, Cadbury, and Heineken were called out specifically — citing concern that food and drink sponsors who produce high calorie or perceived unhealthy food and drink products undermine the values of the Olympic Games, and could contribute to the growing problem of obesity in the UK.

While the London Assembly might have their hearts in the right place, we think they need a super-sized serving of perspective.

First, let’s talk dollars and cents (or pounds and pence). According to a study conducted by official Olympic sponsor Visa, the UK will receive a huge economic stimulus from the Games worth an estimated £5.33 billion — a number that could have been significantly lower without the sponsorship dollars paid by McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, Cadbury, and Heineken, who all contribute to the Olympic Committee’s ability to make the Games a success. The boost the Games and its sponsors contribute to the UK economy far outweigh the possibility that their ties to the Games might persuade Brits to reach for some fries or a soda. We’re surprised that a governmental organization doesn’t get that.

And frankly, we don’t buy that companies like McDonald’s and Coca-Cola, who have received the most flack from critics, don’t exhibit values that align with many Olympic ideals. The notion that McDonald’s is nothing but a coronary-inducing beef patty and french fry slinger is an antiquated one. The global restaurant chain has made serious strides in offering up healthy options on their menu. More nutritious items — grilled chicken, entree salads, fruit sides, and low-fat dairy snacks — have been a big part of McDonald’s ability to succeed in the modern marketplace, and to some extent, may even have been inspired by McDonald’s early days of serving athletes at the Olympic  village. Those options will all be available for sale at the Games.

And Coca-Cola expects that over 75% of the drinks it sells at the Olympic Games will be water (Schweppes Abbey Well Water is a Coca-Cola brand and is the official water of the Games), juice, or sugar-free beverages. Again, the idea that Coca-Cola only produces syrupy fizzy soft drinks is misinformed.

The food service giant and beverage behemoth are also showing that they value the Olympic ideals of athleticism, unity, and excellence with Games-themed initiatives aimed at boosting physical activity. McDonald’s plans on giving away 9 million activity toys with their happy meals during the Olympic Games; Coca-Cola sponsored a “free swim” program in the UK in conjunction with their sponsorship.

And therein lies the real takeaway: McDonald’s and Coca-Cola know that an Olympic sponsorship is the perfect opportunity to drive home the fact that their brands can be part of an athletic lifestyle, and that as corporations they value the spirit of the Olympic games. Sponsorship isn’t always about brands selling the masses more burgers, sneakers, or car insurance.

Bottom line?: we think the London Assembly should leave sponsorship to the experts.

Oh, and London Assembly! It looks like Mayor Johnson agrees with us: Click here to watch a video clip of Boris Johnson inviting Americans to come to London to drink “fizzy drinks.” 

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