McDonald’s farm tie-up should shift brand perception

McDonald’s plan to use its London 2012 Olympic Games sponsorship to raise awareness of British agriculture and its role in providing produce for the event could help shift negative perceptions of the fast-food brand, say experts.

McDonald’s will feature British farms in its national television advertising ahead of the Games and aims to promote the farms’ best practice in standards and welfare.

Plans include a scheme to open the gates of some of its supplier farms, which will also be providing meals for athletes, organisers and spectators at the London 2012 Games.

McDonald’s UK chief executive Steve Easterbrook says: “People are very interested in what they eat, so we want our scheme to resonate withthe transparency they demand, showing that we are a relevant sponsor of the Games. Our communications will show the quality of our food using natural, local ingredients, which we hope will ease the natural suspicions of consumers.”

The company says it wants to help British farmers by becoming their “marketing department”. The campaign will be UK-centric, but could be taken abroad nearer to the start of the Olympics.

According to an earlier study by brand consultancy Sundance, consumers found McDonald’s involvement in London 2012 “especially jarring” because the company did not seem an authentic fit for the sporting celebration.

Sally Mathie, a director at Sundance London, says the farming initiative could ease these concerns.

“It could provide that necessary hook for McDonald’s, helping to avoid the more rational disconnect between ’junk food’ and sporting excellence.

The brand could focus on the more positive and nutritional ’foody’ values that are evoked through the British farmers’ sourceability message.”
However, Bert Moore, chief strategy officer at Lowe & Partners brand consultancy, says the campaign lacks the sporting context Olympics sponsors should focus on.

“For a brand to associate itself with the pinnacle of sport – the Olympics – these are irrelevant initiatives, especially when its reputation is not in tune with the Olympic ideal. It’s a bit tactless.”

Easterbrook says it continues to encourage sports among children, but also wants to celebrate its supply chain, which has had to meet “exacting benchmarks” set by the Games organisers.