Hurdling for Hamburgers and Other Mixed Messages in the Minefield of Olympic Sponsorship

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As a former athletics coach, my mum has been left perplexed by the sponsorship partners of the upcoming Olympics. ‘What on earth does McDonald’s have to do with sport?’ she asked. ‘What’s next? Hurdling for hamburgers?’ Well quite.

As the Games draws closer, we’re seeing an increasing number of businesses trying to connect with their consumers by using the Olympics as a springboard. It’s a huge global event that provides a pre-packaged platform for brands to flag-wave, so it makes sense that businesses want to build a communications strategy around it.

But the problems stem from relevance. Or a lack thereof. The link between some brands and the Olympics is tenuous at best but it’s not the only occasion that we see brands associate themselves with a platform with little or no genuine connection. A stance is adopted to fit the environment, not the other way around. It feels forced and all it does is create more disconnect between consumers and brands.

As it happens, McDonald’s has actually built a considerable legacy through community action projects and its 40 year sponsorship of the Olympics gives them a degree of relevance by default. Sadly, not all brands were lucky enough to have forged this early relationship.

Irrelevant communications aren’t just limited to global events. Social media is a breeding ground for mismatched messaging and content that leaves you scratching your head. And again, it’s because brands are making the decision to have, say, a Facebook presence before they’ve figured out what they actually have to say for themselves and to their audiences. As communications experts, surely the marketing, advertising and PR industries should be doing a much better job at all of this.

Our industry needs to first decide what to say – and how to say it – before deciding on where we should be saying it. It has to be more than a badging exercise. If we keep fitting the message to the location, our communications strategy will constantly chop and change. It will lack meaning and sincerity.

These mixed messages come about, largely, because not only is the media landscape so fragmented now, but the way in which we structure our external communications is also broken into several departments, often spread over several locations. Internal and external communicators, marketing teams, sponsorship teams and PR are all so disconnected that it’s no surprise that the general public is being bombarded with constant reams of cluttered communication.

Hijacking events and newsfeeds is disruptive. It takes people out of their experience rather than enhancing it. Building a consistent and clear conversation with people means respecting the space they occupy, both on- and offline. My mum, amongst others, would thank us for it.

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