July 21st, 2011
McDonald's Uses Olympics for Its Own Balancing Act
The New York Times
McDonald’s will use its coming sponsorship of the 2012 Summer Olympics to bolster efforts to present itself as a nutritionally responsible marketer, particularly when it comes to children.
In a 50-minute video news conference on Wednesday morning, executives from McDonald’s were joined by present and former Olympic athletes to discuss the company’s plans for the Summer Games.
The executives often repeated the phrase “balanced eating and fun play” in describing the focus of the McDonald’s advertising and marketing initiative for the Olympics, which will be held in London. And for the first time, the executives said, the McDonald’s Olympic restaurants will also serve Happy Meals in addition to their other menu fare.
McDonald’s has been aggressive in fighting back against efforts by activists to limit or ban Happy Meals on the grounds that they provide children with too many calories and too much fat, salt and sugar.
Dara Torres, the United States Olympic swimming champion, is being hired to serve as a “global ambassador” for the McDonald’s efforts for the 2012 Games. Ms. Torres appeared with Kevin Newell, the global chief brand officer of McDonald’s, to talk about how the restaurant chain will support what she called “the benefits of play for kids everywhere.”
The McDonald’s sponsorship will proceed under an umbrella theme of McDonald’s Champions of Play for the Olympic Games. The “champions” are to be children ages 6 to 10, from around the world. They (with guardians) will be brought to London by McDonald’s to meet Olympic athletes, tour the Olympic facilities, see some of London and, of course, tour the McDonald’s restaurant at the Olympic Village.
(As the “official restaurant” of the Olympic Games, McDonald’s will have four restaurants on the premises. In addition to the one in the Olympic Village, there will be two in the Olympic Park, for spectators, and one in the main press center. All told, projections call for the four eateries to serve 1.75 million meals during the 29 days the Games will go on.)
The Champions of Play program is an expansion of an initiative by McDonald’s at the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver, British Columbia. There will also be elements of the Champions of Play program for 2012 that will take place in local markets, among them a Web site devoted to “balanced eating and fun play” and special packaging for Happy Meals.
The news conference also included appearances by executives at the United States Olympic Committee Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., who lavishly praised the quality and nutritional aspects of McDonald’s food.
People “would be amazed” if they were aware of the high-quality ingredients that go into the McDonald’s menu items, said Terri Moreman, associate director of food and nutritional services for the committee.
She even ended her remarks with the “I’m lovin’ it” theme from the McDonald’s ad campaign.
Dean Barrett, global marketing officer at McDonald’s, said the company would promote its sponsorship in 117 markets around the world and also with its 1.7 million employees.
As it has done at several Olympic Games, McDonald’s will again draw from its worldwide employee ranks to staff the restaurants at the 2012 Summer Olympics. Jill McDonald, chief executive for the United Kingdom operations of McDonald’s, said there would be 1,800 workers drawn from those who work for the company in the United Kingdom and 200 from other countries.
One of the four restaurants, in Stratford in East London, will be the largest free-standing McDonald’s ever, executives said. The restaurant, which will be one of the two for ticket-holders, will be two stories (or “storeys,” as the British say).
In addition to trying to burnish its nutritional credentials, McDonald’s also intends to use the Olympic sponsorship to talk up its efforts in areas like the environment and sustainability.
For instance, Ms. McDonald described how the sponsorship will include discussions of the Open Farms program, which invites customers and journalists to visit some of the 17,500 farms in Britain and Ireland that provide ingredients for food sold in restaurants in the United Kingdom.