Red Thread

McDonalds and the IOC: fake news from the FT?

McDonald’s departure from the IOC TOP programme has provoked much commentary. Of course, big sponsorship news always attracts its fair share of clichéd reflection and the departure of McDonald’s from TOP is very big news in the sponsorship industry. But it’s been particularly interesting to observe, especially in the context of fake news.

The worst culprit, surprisingly, is the Financial Times, in their 16 June article ‘McDonald’s ends Olympic Games sponsorship 3 years early’.

According to Leisure Correspondent Murad Ahmed, ‘McDonald’s has ended its decades-long sponsorship of the Olympic Games, becoming the latest US company to pull support and marking the latest financial blow to the body that runs the world’s biggest sporting event’.

He refers to Budweiser, Citi, Hilton and AT&T, all of whom indeed terminated relationships in recent years – with the United States Olympic Committee, of course, not the IOC. In fact, the last USA TOPs to withdraw were actually KodakJohn Hancock (after fairly respectable terms of 22 and 16 years, respectively) and Johnson & Johnson (after four years) in 2008. P&G has since more than occupied the temporary space created by J&J of course. The IOC’s TOP programme is in rude good health.

The article continues: ‘In response, the IOC has looked elsewhere for major sponsorship deals, particularly Asia’, citing the case of Alibaba – but ignores the advent of GE, P&G and Dow to the TOP programme since 2000. And today, 21 June 2017, Santa Clara based Intel is being announced as TOP number 13.

The article’s real destination, however, appears in paragraph six: ‘the departure of another big-name sponsor comes at a difficult time for the IOC, which is struggling to convince cities to take on the multibillion-dollar costs of staging.’

The FT’s article looks as though it was largely subbed down from Reuters. In which case, we’re potentially in classic fake news territory here. Were the facts deliberately misrepresented in order to feed the popular media narrative about the challenge the IOC faces in attracting bid cities?

Reuters, who looks to have led the story, provided far more insightful commentary. They looked beyond the cliché into McDonald’s current business position, citing McDonald’s CMO Silvia Lagnado and their investment in improving food quality, restaurant service and online ordering to refresh and revive McDonald’s. Their very publicly stated change of focus, in other words.

(Bizarrely, the FT article – and not Reuters’ feed – was picked up and replayed virtually verbatim by Sports Business Daily, who, of all people, should know better.)

To our certain knowledge, McDonald’s IOC relationship has been under repeated review since 2010 – definitely since before London 2012, and possibly longer. The reasons are fairly obvious, but worth exploring, because of the light it shines on sponsorship – and McDonald’s as a sponsor.

The issue of obesity is certainly high on the list of reasons. Media and public concern about obesity have shone a bright spotlight on McDonald’s, making corporate comms and public affairs a higher order need in many markets than pro-active sales promotion.

And sales promotion is one area where the Olympics historically do not perform for McDonald’s. The simple question is: what Olympic sales promotion is more cost-effective than a tie-up with Universal & Dreamworks, for example? Without an answer to that question, Olympic Partnership struggles to address the very real needs of the 80% of restaurants globally which are franchised.

Images of Olympians queueing for burgers in Rio must have been very gratifying for McDonald’s. In many ways, it offered an ideal positioning for McDonald’s – as a dietary treat, not a staple. But as a public affairs ‘defender’, it’s a blip and doesn’t work nearly as well as, for example, McDonald’s collaboration with the Association of French Regions to create 2,000 new jobs for young people in France. Or McDonald’s grassroots sport investments.

For some categories and brands, the IOC offers the most powerful sponsorship opportunity in the world. Like any sponsorship property, of course, it has its limitations. The Tokyo 2020 line-up appears to be dealing with its ageing audience profile and the IOC clearly recognises that its bidding process has become a victim of its own success. Harder to deal with is the intrinsic challenge facing all IOC Partners of maintaining relevance during the three fallow years between Summer Games. Yes, the Winter Games exist but they’re far from global in terms of reach or relevance. It works better for some categories than others.

But, according to various sources, including Kantar Media and Statista, McDonald’s has been spending between US$600 million and US$1 billion annually on advertising in the USA alone. Which puts the IOC’s rights fees into perspective, even if the IOC are seeking to double the rights fee for TOP to US$200 million. The most likely explanation is in fact not cost-saving, but simply that the IOC Partnership was no longer relevant for McDonald’s.

Steve Easterbrook was appointed global CEO in 2015, tasked with repeating his turnaround of McDonald’s GB – the mammoth task of bringing McDonald’s sustainability and service into the 21st century. Three months later, and two new global comms functions were occupied: the position of Global CMO was taken by Silvia Lagnado, with responsibility for the global brand, menu and consumer insights); and former White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs was appointed Global Chief Communications Officer. ‘Returning excitement to our business proposition’ was how Easterbrook described the challenge to Fortune magazine.

Sponsorship excels at creating an exciting platform for some businesses, and some entire categories (banking for example). But as Apple always reminds us, the optimum creative platform is a product that is relevant, timely, alive and valued. Sponsorship is no substitute for product development. And when your sponsorship is the most interesting thing about your business, frankly, it’s time to hire your own Easterbrook.

As for the FT, it’s worrying. On this one, Potato Business did a much better job.

Red Thread

Tokyo 2020: The challenges facing Partners

Organising Committees famously misrepresent the value of Games Partnership. ‘The country needs you to step up.’ ‘It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity.’ ‘The Prime Minister needs your help on this one.’ And the favourite: ‘It will be so good for your business.’

In London, LOCOG employed McKinsey to develop an elegantly simple model to show how modest uplift (not forgetting ‘halo effect’ and ‘legacy uplift’), applied across sales, employee productivity, absenteeism, and even reductions in resignation could easily recoup the Partnership investment. Beautifully seductive, but far from reality.

The truth is that these dials can indeed be moved – and dramatically, but, like shares, the value of Partnership can go up or down. Between 2008 and 2012 we analysed over 30 Partnership campaigns from the Sydney, Beijing and London Games. We interviewed key stakeholders, we reviewed online descriptions, we looked at the numbers. Generally, the passing of time meant that interviewees spoke more candidly about their actual experiences. What was most striking was how some businesses – such as GE, Samsung, Visa, AMP, VW China, EDF (to some extent) – were able to drive real strategic value out of their Partnership, whilst many others – including Cadbury’s, BMW and BT for example in London, struggled to generate sustainable uplift.

The challenge for Partners is that they’re starting from scratch on a journey without parallel or precedent. The power relationship with the Organising Committee is a shock. The landscape of sport is alien. Procurement departments – if they’re even allowed close to the Partnership Agreement – cannot begin to rationalise a rights fee which delivers just one hard asset – a logo. It’s a sponsorship – but it feels more like a merger. The intrinsic challenge of sponsoring the Olympic Games is one of the greatest facing any marketeer – because the impacts of Partnership far exceed the domain and influence of marketing. So every Games Partnership represents an unprecedented organisational challenge, especially for first time Partners.

In the words of Erica Kerner, formerly Global Olympics Games Director for Adidas ‘A lot of first-time Partners spend the first years of Partnership just figuring out the sponsorship. And of course, the Organising Committee has never done it either’. She meant it, of course, literally.

This situation is perennial. But Tokyo 2020 has its own unique set of challenges.

Famously, there’s little distinction between the rights of Tier 1 and Tier 2 Partners: both traditionally secure the full right to run consumer-facing promotions. And with a total of 42 Tier 1 and Tier 2 Partners to date, Tokyo has precisely three times the number of London. In effect, that means three times as many brands competing for attention – not just in consumer-facing activity, but also in more targeted business communications. This is a very real issue because brand equity gains (in particular) require a solid foundation of Partnership awareness. Not only will the presence of so many Partners aggravate that particular challenge, it’s almost certain to increase misattribution.

The answer is clearly not just advertising. BP was the largest spender on media, spending £14.2m to communicate their Partnership to consumers: by 2012, it had achieved just 25% awareness (Hall & Partners, 2012).

The presence of so many Partners presents another dilution of practical value: with three times as many Partners, ticket allocations for Partners of Tokyo 2020 will be proportionally smaller. Ticket numbers sound a mundane issue, but a Partner’s ability to guarantee a ticket to Tokyo 2020 to their oldest, or closest, or most profitable, or largest, or prospective clients is one of the largest direct benefits they receive. Tier 1 Partners at London were on average taking over 10,000 guests to both Games. Tokyo Partners will face some very tough decisions about their invite lists.

Category sharing is another issue which directly affects ten Partners in banking, aviation, security (and, to a lesser extent power supply and toilets). Now category exclusivity is customary in sponsorship for very good reason: it guarantees sponsors competition-free access to a target audience. But for the Olympics, lack of exclusivity is far worse, because a large part of the communications value is based on the notion that the Partner makes a unique and practical contribution to the delivery of the Games. This feeds into showcasing, into credentials, into client conversations, into employee engagement. This facet of Partnership is almost unique to the Games (shared only with ‘Expo’) – and completely impossible to maintain when your competitor is providing exactly the same contribution.

For a Partner, choice of Category is highly significant for two reasons. Firstly, because it creates a supply right: Partnership Agreements commit the OCOG and incentivise Partners to purchase the Category products and services from within the Partner network. Aggreko reputedly paid £5m for a Tier 3 position at London 2012: and billed LOCOG £15m. Secondly, because it broadly determines the product communications platform for the Partner. Ideally, the Category carries the flag for the entire business. Hence Atos use their role as IT Integrator to promote their ability to deliver the most challenging systems and Deloitte used their role at London 2012 to communicate their ability to handle complex programme management.

But many Partners of Tokyo 2020, in their desire to become a Partner and to support Tokyo 2020, and Japan, have bought Categories which have relatively little value, commercially or communication..ally. A quick look at the list of 2020 Categories reveals a number of Partners who will struggle to tell a story which helps their broader business. The narrow segmentation of IT across six Partners hurts all six.

The impact of all of this is aggravated by Japan’s corporate communications model.

Japanese businesses take a very integrated approach to brand – by which I mean that its primary drivers are seen as business reputation and product quality. (From my culturally bigoted position, reminiscent of the dominant B2B approach of 30 years ago.) There are intrinsic conservatism and formality about Japanese corporate communications. If the general direction in the west is for business communication to move toward the norms of peer to peer, Japan remains, by contrast, very ‘corporate’, with a marked resistance to stepping outside of the established protocols of business behaviour. The concept of brand in the west is generally closer to that of individual identity, with a clearly defined personality and attributes; and a recognition that corporate behaviour and communication needs to be a reflection of that identity.

The upshot is that many Japanese Partners of Tokyo 2020 will find the need to transcend the limitations of their Category culturally challenging. The best way for Partners to improve their corporate reputation is the thing they are most nervous about doing – standing out.

Looking back to 2012, each Partner looked for a unique way to express its identity or its message – for Lloyds Bank, it was taking the spirit of the Games around the UK, for BT, it was bringing the public together in celebration, for McDonald’s, it was supporting and celebrating the unsung heroes who make the Games such a success. Western brand methodology was applied to each distinct positioning to generate and shape each individual campaign – all in the service of achieving cut-through and superior levels of recognition and appreciation of the role played by the Partner.

It’s almost a platitude of Olympic marketing that the value of Partnership doesn’t derive from the six weeks of the Games (Olympic and Paralympic) but from the years before. What that means in practice is that Partners need to develop a campaign which leverages the Games association to increase relevance, and generates repeated touchpoints with key business audiences. But Tokyo 2020 Partners will find this particularly hard without unique, ownable stories. Their default cultural preference will be to adopt the position of ‘proud supporter’ of Tokyo 2020. This generic sponsor positioning no longer works outside of Japan. There is little to suggest it will work within Japan either.

It truly will be an exceptional Games and Partners are applying themselves wholeheartedly to the delivery challenge. I’m confident that Japan will demonstrate levels of innovation during Tokyo 2020 that surpass any Games, anywhere. The challenge I would like to see Partners embrace would be the challenge of communicating effectively outside of Japan.

The challenges facing Partners

Seductive ROI modelling suggests success is guaranteed

  • Modelling suggests that incremental improvements across sales, brand, employee engagement can easily pay the cost of Partnership investment.
  • This is misleading because even marginal incremental gains do not happen easily. There is no simple positive correlation between Olympic Partnership and commercial value.

They have less time than they believe

  • It is a common mistake of first-time Partners to waste two to three years of Partnership because, fundamentally, they believe there is no hurry.
  • The value of Olympic Partnership cannot be generated during the Games but requires four or five years of planned activity before the Games. Without timely planning, many will fail to recoup their investment.

They under-staff

  • Helen Nugent, Westpac Senior Exec, and later Macquarie Group Board member described Sydney 2000 as ‘the hardest challenge of her career’. Games Partnership cannot be ‘managed’ by a lower executive team.
  • Partnership cuts across every aspect of corporate life and requires active leadership with Senior Exec authority.

They have to create a five-year programme out of nothing

  • The marketing assets of Tokyo 2020 Partnership are largely limited to a logo, a designation and tickets. From that, Partners need to create an integrated, five-year campaign which touches every part of their business. Many Games Partners have unrealistic expectations of Organising Committee support and fail to take early responsibility for the success of their investment.

It is difficult to stand out

  • Tokyo 2020 has more Gold and Official Partners than any other Olympic Games, ever, many, with non-exclusive or very narrow Categories.
  • This means that achieving salience and cut-through for Tokyo 2020 Partners will be extremely hard; and harder with time.

Image credit: Night View with Tokyo Tower Special Lightup by t-mizo (CC BY 2.0)

The Olympic Baby

We were a little surprised when we saw the IOC was planning on reforming its Rule 40.

Rule 40 currently imposes commercial purdah on Olympians for nearly a month around the Games, preventing any use of name or likeness in association with non-Games partners. Penalties for contravention include disqualification and stripping of medals (although the reality is closer to a rapped knuckle for the superstar breaches that are the legends of ambush: Johnson, Christie, Phelps)

There’s a popular case for change. Dozens of athletes launched a Twitter campaign – #WeDemandChange2012 – during the London Games, to urge an end to the rule. Rule 40 limits the commercial potential of athletes at the greatest moments in their season or even their careers. Only the very top athletes, sponsored by official Games partners, would make real money in Olympic years.

But a change is still surprising. Not only because the IOC is a conservative beast…but because this reform is potentially … radical.

The premise is to allow pre-existing marketing campaigns based on Olympians to continue, providing they are ‘generic’ ie non Olympic. But as we saw clearly in the controversies about Scotiabank’s 2010 and Honda’s 2012 campaigns, it can be extremely difficult to differentiate between ‘generic’ and Olympic marketing. The strict IP of the IOC and Games are well-protected: the marques and designations. But … mood, colours, words even.: Champion, heroic, pride… The Olympic brand is way too big to be reduced to a few protected terms.

So it’s difficult to see how ambush marketing would not be encouraged by this move. And while simple cease and desist letters are effective in blocking flagrant breaches of Olympic legislation, rights protection teams would struggle to cope with multiple negotiations of the protracted sort required by the more subtle approach of a Honda or Scotiabank.

Although LOCOG successfully restricted the ability of non Partners to use outdoor or field marketing in ambush, Games-time clutter across multiple channels is also a real risk, with the threat of Atlanta-style backlash against excessive commercialism.

But it will be the NOCs around the world who are most likely to suffer, with the dilution of their main asset. Brands will have the option to steer clear of bulky rights packages and head, instead, straight to the athletes.

And the potential is for so many brands to develop ‘non-Olympic’ campaigns that official sponsors will have to reassess the value of official Olympic turf. Or for undesirable or controversial brands to tarnish the halo of the Rings. How much did Bodog offer Tiger? Any ISFs who already accept gambling partners will be hard-pushed to take a stand when the same brands turn to athletes…

The change surely has the potential to shift the entire Olympic sponsorship landscape. Sponsors in the Olympic family will be faced with the need to develop stronger, more differentiated sponsorship propositions. The marketing landscape would be shaken up, there’s no question about that.

An apocalyptic picture. Life rarely pans out exactly as predicted, but here at Redmandarin, we’re left asking ourselves: which is the baby and which is the bathwater?

Red Thread

Olympics: what next?

One of the defining attributes of the Games is their life-cycle. The simple fact that each version of the Games only takes place once every four years, in different parts of the world, ensures the experience remains eternally fresh, not stuck in the comfortable but deadening rut of annual fixture.

Each Games spans seven long years, building from Host City announcement through to global celebration, and the Games are as much about this journey – as the event itself, with an unprecedented network of businesses and organisations working towards a single end.

And then Continue reading

West meets East

The classic modern Olympic case study and one that gets more than its fair share of praise in ‘Working the Olympics’, is Samsung. The story of a faceless OEM turned global brand superstar on the back of a quality product portfolio, a sponsorship portfolio bordering on lavish, and a single-minded attitude to brand marketing. Yet so much has changed, even since we began writing ‘Working the Olympics’, that instinctively that story feels like it belongs to a bygone era; an era when it was Western markets and Western consumers that were the prime audience and emerging brands were desperate for the riches that could be unlocked with a mass consumer profile and a hefty marketing spend. Now the world is very different. Continue reading

Global – Local Sponsorship Portfolios

As interest ramps up at the peak of the 4-year Olympic cycle, as well as the UEFA European championships year, there’s going to be a lot said and written about major global platforms; and with our new Olympic publication we’ll probably be as responsible as anyone. With all that going on, I’m keen to maintain a balance and address some of the broader issues facing sponsors beyond the major global flagship properties, and for that matter beyond sport. Continue reading

the right rights: The hidden value of Dow’s Olympic partnership

In July, Dow Chemical Co., the world’s second-largest chemical maker, agreed to become a worldwide sponsor of the Olympics through 2020 to gain construction sales in host cities and boost brand awareness in emerging markets.

The deal requires Olympic hosts to give Dow products preference as long as they meet a project’s technical requirements and are price competitive in the region

CEO Andrew Liveris said at an IOC event in New York that Dow’s board approved the sponsorship after Heinz Haller, an executive vice president, pitched it as a $1 billion sales opportunity through to 2020. Earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization may reach $180 million which makes the average $72-90m rights fee a good investment without even considering the value the sponsorship brings Dow outside of the Host Cities market.

When it comes to Olympic sponsorship, supply rights are often overlooked by the wider world. For b2b sponsors, the Dow/IOC partnership may just prove a well-thumbed case-study.