Why a Fast Food Giant Became a Top Olympic Sponsor

Go ahead and admit it. You’ve found it a little ironic that McDonald’s – the fast food giant that has more clout for fattening up Americans than turning them into Olympians – is a top sponsor for the Olympics, and has been since 1976. In fact, they’re signed on to be a top sponsor through at least the year 2020.

The story begins at the 1968 Winter Games, where McDonald’s actually airlifted hamburgers into Grenoble, France to its homesick, McDonald’s-craving U.S. athletes. The fact that the U.S. finished ninth in overall medal count that year was inconsequential. McDonald’s had an in and while marketing in other ways, began its top sponsorship status, as mentioned above, in 1976.

“McDonald’s wants to sponsor the Olympics because they want everyone to think that physical activity is the determining factor in obesity — but food is,” says Marion Nestle, professor of nutrition at New York University.

Of course, Nestle cites the above logic as a critique of McDonald’s. In fact, in spite of some officials having a concern, that critique actually unveils the genius behind the sponsorship. With 11 top sponsors in all, who contributed a combined $957 million in revenue in the four years leading up to the London games, the investment is significant, to be sure. But consider the implications.

At the most-televised and viewed hub of athletic activity, McDonald’s is aligning itself with an image of health and fitness, despite widely known truths to the contrary. But image is everything. It creates the impression that, indeed, if you’re active, then your diet won’t make a difference. It’s not entirely true, but then, McDonald’s never came out and said otherwise. It simply bunked up with the Olympics in a major way and let the audience decide for itself.

McDonald’s may be slowly making changes to its menu, promoting their Favorites Under 400 Calories, in an effort to be more health-minded, but it seems that efforts to change perceptions – and not diets – are a lot easier. And quite effective, too. At least one company is ‘lovin’ it,’ and will be for another eight years.

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