Director, Brand Strategy,
based in Landor San Francisco
Never get between an Englishman and his chips.
McDonald’s is spending a lot of money at the Olympics (around
$100 million) for an exclusive sponsorship deal and the right to
tell the other 800 caterers on the Olympics grounds that they can’t
sell “chips” (that’s French fries to you Yankees) during the Games.
The only nod to British eating habits and national pride is to
allow these caterers to sell traditional fish and chips (and no,
people won’t be allowed to order fish and chips, hold the
Why would McDonald’s expect that this would not cause the furor
that it has, in fact, caused? “McDonald’s has turned the London
Summer Olympics into a no-fry zone,” “‘Chipgate’ scandal rocks
Olympics,” were just two of the headlines. Sebastian Payne,
writing in the Spectator, labeled the Games as the
“censorship Olympics.” He said that the “Soviet-style road lanes
are bad enough, but the right to sell a bag of chips to anyone who
wants one is fairly fundamental.”
McDonald’s is not the only company flexing its corporate
sponsorship rights. Visa has been accused of cashing in by
replacing ATMs with many fewer machines that only accept its
cards. Although Visa has always used its Olympics deal as part of
its long-running “only card accepted” campaign, this move is upping
the ante. To protect Heineken’s sponsorship, all other drinks will
be sold unbranded--you won’t be able to order a Guinness at the
Games—you’ll have to order a pint of stout.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has recruited hundreds
of uniformed Olympics officers tasked with roaming the streets of
Britain looking for any use of Olympic brand equities not
officially sanctioned. This is not just the unauthorized use of the
Olympic rings but also the use of banned words like “gold,”
“summer,” and “London” if they are construed to connect to the
Games. Under legislation passed by the government, these “brand
police” have the right to enter shops and offices and levy heavy
fines against violators. Grandmothers giving dolls to church
donations, florists in Stoke-on-Trent, lingerie shops in Leicester,
and butchers in Dorset have all been swept up in this dragnet.
Over the years, the IOC and its global sponsors have been
frustrated by ambush marketers who have been extremely creative in
finding ways to associate with the Olympics without paying for the
privilege. Nike, American Express, and Pepsi have all successfully
played this ambushing game and the IOC has responded by tightening
the rules and enforcing its rights.
But this escalating battle between sponsors and their
ambush-minded competitors is now officially out of control.
Sponsors have become so focused on stopping ambushes that they’ve
forgotten about the people living in the country hosting the games.
They are just collateral damage in this epic battle. As Tom Chivers
in the Telegraph
said, this is the moment when “corporate sponsorship lost its
It’s gone too far. People don’t like monopolies and they don’t
like bullies. The IOC and its sponsors, blinded by the battle with
their ambushing enemies, are acting like both. They need to back
off and think about things from the public’s (their consumers)
Otherwise the money they are spending will not generate the
goodwill it is intended to. And that would be a waste of the almost
one billion dollars they are spending.
From Fast Company
Image courtesy of Katy
Warner (flickr); permission being requested.