There have been a number of stories lately surrounding the protest of event sponsors. Companies are being targeted because it seems that what they sponsor and their practices are perceived to be at odds with one another.
As an example, McDonald’s has been a recent target of protests by British doctors indicating that fast food menus don’t belong in the Olympic Village when so many Britain’s are obese. In addition, Coca-Cola and Heineken were also pointed out as “bad for you” products that are partners with the Olympics. According to the Guardian Newspaper, protestors were developing several coordinated campaigns aimed against those companies accused of using the Games to cover up unethical corporate activities.
To the Olympic Committee’s defense, Coca-Cola and McDonald’s have been sponsors for a long time, back to when these products weren’t so bad for you and people weren’t so obese (figure that one out). To their credit, these companies have introduced programs and products committed to supporting healthier platforms. And just look at how those active, healthy athletes have been eating McDonald’s food at the Olympic Village for years! (I’ve seen the commercials).
The Olympics represent this coming together of peoples from all forms and ideologies in the name of sport, to achieve and learn from one another and somehow make the world a bit better. It truly does capture the imagination of millions worldwide and seems to have meaning for most of us. The Olympic Committee has stated outright that without sponsor funding from McDonald’s and others, the games just wouldn't happen. So, for better or worse, these groups are insuring that the Olympic “spirit” burns using their corporate dollars to keep the flame going.
The protestors and the Olympics need to keep in mind, however, that sponsorship can be a powerful force for change within the corporate structure. Sponsorship provides these companies with an opportunity to internally come together under one umbrella. From leadership down to the janitor, successful sponsorships are based, in part, on how the sponsorship relationship becomes part of the corporate DNA. The Olympic Committee has the power to assist those brands in reshaping their ideas simply by encouraging the companies to activate their relationship.
So, perhaps because of the Olympic relationship, those companies under protest find an opportunity to make themselves a bit better BECAUSE of their involvement. Maybe we should be embracing those companies that choose to talk the talk, because that might give them the opportunity to walk the talk, too.
It’s hard to say. But, sponsorship is a powerful tool.