Transnational corporations. Sport. Olympics
Coke, Big Mac, and the Olympic ideal
Not everybody is enthusiastic about commercial sponsorship of the London Olympics. Here's 'Ronald McDonald', styled as a Coca-Cola 'future flame'
Our news team reports. 'It's very sad that an event that celebrates the very best of athletic achievements should be sponsored by companies contributing to the obesity problem and unhealthy habits' says Terence Stephenson of the Academy of Royal Medical Colleges (3). He is referring to McDonald's, Coca-Cola, Cadbury (purchased by Kraft Foods for $US 4.5 billion in 1988) and Heineken, transnational corporations that are official sponsors of the London Olympics. Of these McDonald's has sponsored the Olympics worldwide since 1968, Coca-Cola since 1928.
London Olympics business masterminds. For the UK, Lord (Sebastian) Coe (left); and for the International Olympic Committee, Jacques Rogge (right).
Following special Acts of Parliament – the London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Act, and the Olympic Symbol (Protection) Act – other corporations and companies, small businesses, and individuals, selling or offering any products in the same category as those of the Olympic sponsors, anywhere in the UK, are prohibited from making any association with the Olympics. Fines for those found to have offended are up to £20,000. As a concession, chippies in the Olympic enclosure are allowed to sell chips (french fries) as long as they sell fish also. The organisers explain that the London 2012 brand is its 'most valuable asset', and if it 'did not take steps to protect it from unauthorised use and ambush marketing, the exclusive rights which [its] partners have acquired would be undermined'. London Olympics Delivery Committee chair Lord (Sebastian) Coe at one point got muddled. He thought that anybody who had paid to get into the enclosure to see the Games who turned up in a Pepsi t-shirt would be forbidden entrance and told to go home and change, but he seems to have been mistaken.
At the time this story was written, over 1,000 soldiers are held on stand-by to ensure the security of the Games against terrorism, following the failure of the private security firm to whom this task had been outsourced. It is understood that the military will not be used to ensure the security of Ronald McDonald or any of the commercial sponsors against 'ambush marketing' by rival companies, publicans or organisers of village fetes.
The Olympic brand police
Extracted and edited from The Independent.(4). Hundreds of uniformed Olympics officers will begin touring the country today [16 July] enforcing sponsors' multimillion-pound marketing deals, in a highly organised mission….
Almost 300 enforcement officers will be seen across the country checking firms to ensure they are not staging 'ambush marketing' or illegally associating themselves with the Games at the expense of official sponsors such as Adidas, McDonald's, Coca-Cola and BP…
The Olympic 'brand army' will start its work with a vengeance today. Wearing purple caps and tops, the experts in trading and advertising working for the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) are heading the biggest brand protection operation staged in the UK. Under legislation specially introduced for the London Games, they have the right to enter shops and offices and bring court action with fines of up to £20,000.
Olympics organisers have warned businesses that during London 2012 their advertising should not include a list of banned words, including 'gold', 'silver' and 'bronze', 'summer', 'sponsors' and 'London', if they give the impression of a formal connection to the Olympics… Publicans have been advised that blackboards advertising live TV coverage must not refer to beer brands or brewers without an Olympics deal, while caterers and restaurateurs have been told not to advertise dishes that could be construed as having an association with the event.
At the 40 Olympics venues, 800 retailers have been banned from serving chips to avoid infringing fast-food rights secured by McDonald's. Marina Palomba, for the McCann WorldGroup agency in London, described the rules as 'the most draconian law in advance of an Olympic Games ever'. The ODA and Locog (London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games) say the rules are necessary to protect brands.
The McDonald's outlet built within the Olympic area, very close to the stadium (see picture below) is the biggest in the world at 3,000 square metres. It sits 1,500 people, has hired 2,000 staff, and is set to serve 1.75 million 'meals' of burgers, shakes, fries and Coke™.
Being built, and now operating: the biggest burger outlet in the world: the McDonald's 'cathedral' in the Olympic enclosure, with the stadium close by
The International Olympics Committee (IOC), the global governing body, has received $US 953 million from 11 global sponsors, two of which are McDonald's and Coca-Cola. (See Figure 1). Total advertising and marketing spend around the Olympics by sponsors is reckoned at between two and three times the sponsorship deals, so it is reasonable to guess that between them McDonald's and Coca-Cola are spending $US 500 million (half a million) on associating their lead brands with sport, fitness and health.
IOC president Jacques Rogge at one point said that there was a question mark over these sponsors and that extending the sponsorship deal for McDonald's was not an easy decision, but that sponsors' financial support was vital for backing sport at grassroots levels. The next day he clarified this statement and said that the IOC was proud to be associated with McDonald's and Coca-Cola. He also said that McDonald's healthier menu options and Coca-Cola's zero-calorie drinks showed that the corporations are taking public health seriously. McDonald's have introduced in their menu iced fruit smoothies, the company has announced that all the beef in the Olympic burgers will come from British farms, and the chocolate used in muffins will be fair-trade. Also, McDonald's will include 'activity toys' in Happy Meals, to encourage children to play online Olympics-inspired games.
Olympics revenue since 2000
Since 2000 the revenue of the Olympics has soared away way above inflation, and has almost doubled. Revenue from global sponsors, who in this period (and previously) included Coca-Cola and McDonald's, has increased from $US 663 million through $US 866 million, and despite the global financial crisis now to $US 957 million. Broadcast rights revenue has almost doubled. The price of tickets has more than doubled. Source of information: International Olympics Committee.
Aseem Malhotra, a cardiologist at the London Royal Free Hospital, says it is 'obscene' that the International Olympics Committee associates the Olympics with fast food, sugary drinks, chocolate and alcohol, when there is an obesity epidemic. He appeared on BBCtv's Newsnight in July, asking why McDonalds and Coca Cola are able to make use of the most effective international marketing platform in the world reaching out to billions of people across over 200 countries. He says that in the UK 'there are now well over 20 million children who are overweight by the age of 5, and we are now seeing cases of 7 year olds being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. When I asked my 6 year old nephew why he likes to go to McDonalds he very astutely replied "It's because of the toys. Kids like toys and that's what attracts them".' (5).
First the Golden Arches, now the Coke-red arch, to advertise the 1,300 young people selected by Coke to be the Future Flames for the London Olympics
Part of its deal with the Olympics enabled Coca-Cola to associate with the carrying of the Olympic torch throughout Britain. A Coke media release early this year explained: 'Coca Cola is a Presenting Partner of the Olympic Torch Relay. We launched the nationwide Future Flames campaign with the aim of recognising and rewarding exceptional young people. Future Flames could be nominated for using their passions in areas like sport, music, dance, the environment and community projects to spread happiness in their local areas'.
James Williams, Director of the Olympic Torch Relay at Coca Cola, said: 'The Olympic Torchbearers we have selected through our Future Flames campaign… are all outstanding people who spread happiness in their local communities to make Britain burn brighter, and now they will be honoured with the amazing experience of carrying the Olympic Flame'. James Quincey, President, Northwest Europe and Nordics, Coca-Cola, had much the same thought: 'Every day young people do great things in their communities, going the extra mile and using their interests and passions for sport, music, dance and the environment, to make a difference to others. The chance to carry the Olympic Flame during the London 2012 Olympic Torch Relay is a once in a lifetime opportunity. I'm delighted that through our Future Flames campaign, Coca-Cola is able to recognise, reward and celebrate the young people who spread happiness and make Britain burn brighter'.
The Olympic 'halo effect'
In the current issue of Communications Law (6) Neville Rigby, former head of policy at the International Obesity Task Force, and Amandine Garde of the School of Law at Durham University, say: 'The obesity epidemic has been conveniently overlooked in the race to achieve a "feel good" London Olympics, and to avoid confronting the issue of an international Olympic movement that has financial conflicts of interest with some degree of dependency on sponsorship by the "junk food" sector…The European Commission and the UK Government… have explicitly supported the involvement of food operators in physical activity promotion… The close link now established between the Olympic system and junk food serves to reinforce the claim promoted by the food and beverage sector that there should be greater emphasis on sport.
'Long before the 2012 Olympics were secured for Britain, Tim Lang had expressed his concern that sport sponsorship deals were merely marketing subterfuges to target youngsters: "It is very convenient for fast food and soft drinks people to sponsor sport, because by doing so they place all the emphasis on activity as the means of avoiding obesity rather than both activity and diet. There is a similarity between the strategy of the food industry today and the tobacco industry. Both have used sport as a means of reaching young people, and both began by denying evidence that their products are harmful to health. There is a horrible familiarity in the way the food companies have behaved; they are trying to buy influence and present a kindly face" (7). (See Box 2).
The Olympic halo
Extracted and edited from (6). The Olympics is perhaps the largest marketing opportunity in the world with 10,000 athletes from more than 200 countries competing, and a global television audience of over 4 billion.
International Olympic Committee documents emphasise the commercial benefits of sponsorships. Thus: 'Partnership with the Olympic movement and the Olympic Games is the most powerful corporate marketing opportunity in the world today. The Olympic Image is the world's most esteemed property… Olympic partners have become fully integrated into the Olympic Movement, creating innovative programmes that help to achieve corporate business objectives while supporting the Olympic Games'.
In its report 'Who were the real winners of the Beijing Olympics?' Neilson found that Coca-Cola poured $US 125 million into advertising over three months at and around the time of the Olympics. McDonald's spent $US 87 million. Despite not being official sponsors, PepsiCo spent almost US$ 100 million over the same period, while KFC spent no less than $US 238 million. The Nielsen report concluded: 'For the most part, the massive enthusiasm for the Beijing games by Chinese consumers was successful in creating an 'Olympic halo' around those brands that chose to associate themselves with the five rings'.
In Coca-Cola's corporate responsibility document Daryl Jelinek, Coca-Cola's general manager of the London Olympics, states: 'Our aim is clear – to use the power of the Olympic Games and the passion and talent of our people to accelerate our plans to create an even stronger business for years to come. The Olympic Games is the Coca-Cola System's biggest asset. To help us leverage it successfully, we have built legacy plans in five key areas, ensuring that the business is on track to deliver its long term aims long after the Games have left town".
In London, Coca-Cola is the Games exclusive non-alcoholic beverages supplier and McDonald's the exclusive retail food services supplier. Cadbury has been granted the exclusive right to provide confectionery and packaged ice cream in association with the Games in the UK. Exclusivity means that only sponsors' brands are allowed to be seen and any other goods and services put on sale in and around Olympic venues must be unbranded.
McDonald's marked the 100-day countdown to the beginning of the Games by launching globally its McDonald's Champions of Play programme, Targeting children aged 6-14, the programme is viewed by the company as 'a commitment to children's well-being' and promotes play: 'Play is essential for kids. It's a way they discover, grow, and learn... to make friends, solve problems and make their minds and bodies stronger. Play contributes to children's healthy development on multiple levels.' And with its Little Book of Ways to Play, it invites children and adults alike to 'think of McDonald's as World Play Headquarters'.
McDonald's has also promoted its Mascotothon television marketing campaign which encourages children to go online to a Happy Meal promotion website to report how much activity they have undertaken, to 'power the London 2012 mascots' or alternatively to 'enter the number on your Happy Meal toy'. Similarly, Coca-Cola's Olympic run-up campaign 'invites the world to Move to the Beat', with an advertisement soundtrack, entitled 'Anywhere in the World' produced by Mark Ronson and featuring singer Katy B.
This state of affairs is set to continue. McDonald's clinched an eight year exclusive deal in January 2012, while Coca-Cola was already signed up to a 12-year exclusivity deal.
Cardiologist Aseem Malhotra continues 'With the over-supply of cheap processed food almost everywhere we go our choice is now limited. We should learn from history and realise that the most effective intervention to alter the statistics on obesity needs to be government regulation to curtail the availability of these unhealthy products.... The same tactics adopted by Big Tobacco to stall government action are now being taken up by an extremely powerful food and drink lobby'.
He continued: 'In Britain the health secretary Andrew Lansley has cosied up to the food industry by agreeing to include them in discussions over food policy, a tactic that leading public health expert Simon Capewell describes as akin to allowing Dracula to take over the blood bank. So far, political ideology that favours the corporations is trumping scientific evidence. We cannot stand back and allow a government policy that favours the protection of the huge profits of a minority at the cost of the health of the health of the population. We could have saved millions of lives with earlier intervention with Big Tobacco. For the sake of our children we must not allow the same to happen with Big Food'
It is, however, all happening, now, and in 2016, and in 2020.
- Coca-Cola Corporate Responsibility Review 2010/11 online: http://www.cokecorporateresponsibility.co.uk/future-challenges/london-2012-olympic-games.aspx.
- Anon. Chariots of fries. [Editorial] The Lancet 380, 9838, 188, 21 July 2012
- Associated Press. British doctors blast McDonald's sponsorship of London Olympics. 1 May 2012.
- Hickman M. Britain flooded with brand police to protect sponsors. The Independent, 17 July 2012.
- Malhotra A. To combat obesity we must change our environment. Huffington Post, 18 July 2012.
- Garde A, Rigby N. Going for gold – Should responsible governments raise the bar on sponsorship of the Olympic Games and other sporting events by food and beverage companies? Communications Law, 17, 12, 2012
- Lang T. Fast food firms accused of using sport to attract children. The Guardian, 21 February 2004.
Thanks are due to Simon Capewell, Amandine Garde, Vivica Kraak, Tim Lang, Aseem Malhotra, Neville Rigby, The Financial Times, The Guardian, and The independent.