The Games is a time to do as well as talk good

Ruth Mortimer

Brands such as McDonald’s and Coca-Cola should be banned from sponsoring events such as the Olympic Games, according to some of the UK’s leading doctors. At 100 days from the start of the world’s most prestigious sporting occasion, controversy is swirling about the marketing of London 2012.

The Academy of Medical Royal Colleges (AoMRC), an umbrella organisation of doctors’ bodies, argues the government’s current strategy for tackling obesity has “failed to have a significant impact”. It suggests that food brands offering calorific treats are not compatible with the Olympics.

McDonald’s has been quick to respond to criticism of its sport sponsorships by linking itself with healthy lifestyles through promotional items. Although the company is known most famously for burgers, it has launched a large Mascotathon campaign this week to give away 9 million “activity toys” with its Happy Meals for kids. These toys measure steps and jumps taken in a day, then children go online to convert their activity into “energy” for the Olympic mascots.

Other sponsors are also making overt links with healthy lifestyles and social activities. Coca-Cola has been promoting its Abbey Well brand as the official water of the Games. It ran an on-pack promotion offering free swimming sessions. And it is encouraging community activity as part of its Olympic Torch relay sponsorship.

Will this be enough to satisfy the doctors? Perhaps not, but Locog has had to make some tough decisions. Are there enough sport-focused, cash-rich brands to support an extremely expensive global event like the Olympics? I’d suspect not, and few other brands have the marketing muscle to promote London 2012 in as large a way as Coca-Cola and McDonald’s.

Mark Ritson is also interested in Locog’s operations this week. He’s concerned that the tough clampdown on people infringing sponsors’ rights for the Games has been taken too far and is not acting in the Olympic spirit.

With so much controversy surrounding this summer’s Games, we also talk to the man at the heart of Procter & Gamble’s drive to use its own Olympic sponsorship for community as well as corporate good. Read our exclusive five-page interview with Marc Pritchard, global marketing and brand building officer, who talks about how companies can have a practical impact on communities as part of their Olympics involvement.

“People expect brands and companies to do more than sell products,” says Pritchard. He’s right. This is precisely why there is so much interest in the organisations that choose to sponsor an event like the Olympics. They will always be under scrutiny. For some, like P&G, this is a welcome spotlight; for Locog, with its many critics, it may not be quite such a comfortable process.

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