World Cup fever hits McDonald’s, but should fast-food chains sponsor sporting events?

McDonald’s has unveiled a trio of burgers, a twist on the apple pie and a breakfast wrap each themed to a specific country participating in the upcoming FIFA World Cup in Brazil.    

Argentina, Brazil and France have each been honoured with a specially designed burger from the fast-food chain, while Spain has a breakfast wrap and England has an apple and custard pie.

To announce the arrival of these culinary treats, McDonald’s has launched a new campaign via DDB Sydney that features a pair of animated football commentators enthusiastically sharing their thoughts on the new menu range.

Generally, the Australasian campaigns for McDonald’s are split between DDB Sydney and DDB Auckland on a case-by-case basis, which is sometimes determined by a pitch for the work.           

The campaign is also running across the ditch, where they’ve also included an Australian burger on the menu. Given that All Whites were out-matched in qualification by a struggling Mexican side, there will unfortunately not be a Kiwi burger on the menu.

McDonald’s is only able to use the FIFA World Cup branding in its marketing campaigns on account of being listed as one of the eight international spoonsors of the event. 

FIFA World Cup marketing agreements are broken into three categories—FIFA partners, FIFA World Cup Sponsors and national supporters—and McDonald’s sits alongside seven other brands as one of the sponsors of the event.

But not everyone believes that fast-food companies or the producers of sugary drinks should be allowed to affiliate their brands with sporting events. 

Earlier this year, Beth Hoffman, a contributing writer at Forbes, questioned whether McDonald’s should be allowed to associate its food with Olympic athletes on account of the impact that this might have on children at a time when obesity is becoming increasingly common.

In 2012, the Herald reported on a Waikato District Health Board research that suggested that sports sponsorship “by fast-food chains sent a conflicting message to children about healthy lifestyle and diet.”

The article then went on to quote a McDonald’s spokesperson who countered criticisms of McDonald’s sponsorship policies by saying that the fast-food chain has also assisted children in becoming more active each year.

“McDonald’s My Greatest Feat programme in 2010 saw 85,000 school aged children from across the country participate in a national pedometer programme, in support of the All Whites at the FIFA World Cup. We are proud of our support of activities such as these,” said the spokesperson.

And McDonald’s is continuing this trend this year with Skills Zone, an online competition conceptualised by DDB NZ and New Zealand Football that gives a child (and their parent) the chance to travel to Brazil and escort a player onto the pitch for the FIFA World Cup Final.

“The competition saw over 2000 kids attend a McDonald’s Skills Zone Day at three events around the country, where they practised football skills. Parents could also enter their children by uploading videos of their children showing skills to the Skills Zone website,” said a DDB spokesperson. 

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And despite the fact that his team didn’t qualify for the tournament, All White Tim Payne gave some of his time to participate in the activities on the day.

“It was fantastic to see so many Kiwi kids out practicing their football skills and having fun at the Skills Zone Day,” said McDonald’s New Zealand managing director Patrick Wilson. “McDonald’s has supported junior football in New Zealand since the Small Whites programme launched, and it’s great to be able to help inspire a new generation of future All Whites and Football ferns. On top of that, for one child to have the chance to walk onto the pitch with the players at the FIFA World Cup final in Brazil is a once in a lifetime opportunity.” 

The Skills Zone campaign has been applauded by NZ Football’s chief executive Andy Martin, who said that it gave Kiwi kids additional exposure to the sport.

“The McDonald’s Skills Zone Day was a wonderful opportunity for young people to be introduced to football and be coached in a range of football drills, including passing, ball control and shooting,” he said.     

McDonald’s isn’t unique among fast-food chains in using sports heroes to promote its products to children, with KFC also doing this through its sponsorship of the Crusaders.  

Interestingly, when the Herald’s article was published, Burger King’s marketing director Rachael Allison said that the fast-food chain did not sponsor children’s sports teams or clubs and did not participate in school activities. However, this policy seems to have been relaxed, because the company is currently involved with the 3×3 basketball competition—which includes under-14 and under-16 categories—through its partnership with NZ Basketball.

And while there clearly is some controversy surrounding whether or not fast-food chains should target children in their advertising campaigns, there are social commenters who believe that the blame for obesity shouldn’t only be posited on companies and that poor family diets are a major contributing factor to this problem.

Many of these initiatives are after all encouraging Kiwi kids to drop their Xbox controllers in favour of some real sports outside.   

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