While McDonald’s holds the most prominent spot as an official sponsor, other chains are leveraging consumer interest in the games
Just as there can be only one gold medalist in every Olympic event, there can be just one official restaurant sponsor of the Olympics. Yet many brands other than McDonald’s, which is officially sponsoring its ninth consecutive Olympic Games, can leverage the competition’s excitement.
Tim Nelson, president of Chicago-based advertising agency Tris3ct, said most restaurant chains may not have the ability to buy into McDonald’s level of official sponsorship of the Olympics or sign endorsement deals with Olympic athletes like Subway. But it still is smart for them to associate with the event, because their customers will already be paying attention to it for the next three weeks.
Opening ceremonies in London begin Friday, and the Olympics conclude on Aug. 13.
A new golden opportunity for McDonald’s
McDonald’s first became involved in the Olympics in 1968, when it airlifted hamburgers to American athletes competing at the Winter Games in Grenoble, France.
McDonald’s involvement in the Summer Games this year goes beyond its official sponsorship and restaurants in the Olympic Village. Company officials, including chief executive Don Thompson and executiveDan Coudreaut, took the stage Thursday in London to tout all of McDonald’s initiatives for the Olympics, including the Champions of Play program to encourage active lifestyles in children.
But earlier this week, the brand went even further to call attention to the Olympics, including with its newest promotion, “Win When USA Wins Gold.” For every item customers buy from the new “Favorites Under 400 Calories” menu platform, they will receive a game piece similar to the kind offered in McDonald’s popular Monopoly Game promotion.
The game pieces will contain an Olympic sport, and if an American athlete wins a gold medal in that event, the game piece holder could win one of several prizes, including $25,000 in gold, a trip to London, or a flat-screen TV.
Nelson, who oversaw McDonald’s account for agency Arc Worldwide years ago, said this year’s initiatives would make “a more meaningful connection” for McDonald’s and the Olympics.
“The historic criticism for McDonald’s from their owner-operators was that they weren’t getting good activations out of the Olympics,” Nelson said. “Putting a hamburger and fries next to an athlete would draw more criticism, but drawing a link from the Olympics to their low-calorie items is a much better activation.”
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Burger King can still dream
Burger King Corp. also joined a team for this summer’s Olympic Games, becoming the official quick-service restaurant of USA Basketball, the governing body that will send the United States’ men’s and women’s basketball teams to London.
Part of Burger King’s sponsorship includes selling commemorative cups in all its restaurants that celebrate the men’s teams that have won gold medals since the 1992 Dream Team, which featured Michael Jordan, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson.
“We know the passion that America has for USA basketball and are excited to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Dream Team,” Alex Macedo, Burger King’s senior vice president of North America marketing, said in a statement. “We hope everyone in America gets into the game and get to see all five cups at Burger King restaurants.”
Nelson noted that the men’s basketball team not only stands a good chance at a gold medal and thus would be a big draw, but nostalgia for the original Dream Team makes Burger King’s sponsorship a good opportunity for 2012.
“Given that it’s the 20th anniversary of the Dream Team, Burger King’s sponsorship is a smart idea,” Nelson said. “That team’s story just had a documentary this year, and linking them through 2012 is a really great property.”
A silver lining for other marketers
Five-unit Barney’s Beanery in Los Angeles made the lead-up to the Olympics a cause for several events, including a “Carrying the Torch Libation” promotion in which pints of beer from each country involved in the Olympic torch relay were served the day the torch was carried through the country.
On Friday, the Westwood location will host an Olympics opening ceremonies viewing party with 12 Los Angeles natives who have represented the United States in the competition, and the official Olympic torch used in the Opening Ceremonies in 1996 at Atlanta will be lit.
Other restaurant chains unable to make McDonald’s or Burger King’s large investments as sponsors of the Olympic Games or one of the United States’ athletic teams still can attach their brands to Olympic fever, but they must be subtle about it and not invoke the Summer Games by name.
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Nelson said those smaller brands, like Caribou Coffee, Einstein Bros. Bagels and Charley’s Grilled Subs, can still benefit, even if McDonald’s does the heaviest lifting.
“They’re not missing much by not being the official sponsor, because they’re tapping into the excitement their customers already have,” Nelson said. “You see it other times, like during the Super Bowl, restaurants have chips and dip for ‘the big game,’ but they’re not official Super Bowl sponsors. Smaller marketers can’t buy into those properties but can fuel their marketing off this event.”
Caribou Coffee, for instance, will run a “Bou Games” sweepstakes from July 27 to Aug. 12, the same two-week period of the Olympics. During that time, customers will receive a “Bou Games” card with every purchase and can scratch it off to reveal a prize, including a medium drink or discount offers, or the message “Bou hoo, try again.”
A special limited-time beverage will be the Bou Games Gold coffee, which features the “winning combination” of full-bodied coffee, intense fruit notes, a hint of bourbon and a dark-chocolate finish.
Though it is not an official sponsor of the Olympic Games and thus won’t use the word “Olympics” in its current promotion, Einstein Bros. Bagels still will leverage the nation’s attention to the competition with a Facebook promotion called, “I Could Have Been a Contender.”
The contest asks Einstein Bros. fans to upload pictures of themselves playing sports when they were children and to write a funny caption. Facebook users then will vote on the best photos and captions, with the grand-prize winner receiving a tablet computer and five runners-up receiving vouchers for free bagels for a year.
Charley’s Grilled Subs is not running any athletic-theme promotion or using the word “Olympics” in any trade dress either, but it nonetheless has timed its new limited-time offer to run during the period when its customers are most excited about the United States’ chances for Olympic glory.
The All-American Bacon BBQ RanchSandwich debuted July 16 and will be offered through Aug. 26. The sandwich’s “All-American” moniker may be the only thing directly related to the Olympics, and that is a perfectly fine marketing move, Nelson said.
“Consumers get the concept of a limited-time offer,” he said, “and the question is why is it here. The Olympics provide a rationale for why the product has landed.”