Olympics promotion a good fit for McDonald’s

In a few months, Olympic Games authorities will decide whether cbc tv or the CTV Television Network gets the Canadian rights to the 1996 Summer Olympics in Coca-Cola's hometown, Atlanta.But as big as those Games may get, it is worth remembering...

In a few months, Olympic Games authorities will decide whether cbc tv or the CTV Television Network gets the Canadian rights to the 1996 Summer Olympics in Coca-Cola’s hometown, Atlanta.

But as big as those Games may get, it is worth remembering the Winter Olympics this February 12-27 in Lillehammer, Norway had plenty to teach marketers who want to use special events for cross-promotional opportunities.

One such cross-promotion was between ctv and McDonald’s Restaurants of Canada, and both camps have praised the venture as achieving well beyond their projections.

The impetus for the deal came from Peter Beresford, senior vice-president and national director of marketing at McDonald’s.

Beresford says, last September, he phoned Paul Robertson, ctv’s senior vice-president of sales and marketing, with an offer to make every restaurant in the quick service chain part of ctv’s Olympic headquarters.

Beresford, who has worked with Robertson on several other occasions, says the ctv executive jumped at the chance, and, after some negotiations, concluded the cross-promotion, which included special tray liners and packaging, Olympic merchandise and in-store signage, with a handshake.

He says, for McDonald’s, there were two clear opportunities linked to ctv’s tv coverage.

Build sales

The first was to build sales at the chain’s 675 restaurants in Canada, and the second was to invest some money in its ‘image bank.’

A third benefit was something of a spinoff, says Beresford, with more than $500,000 being raised for the Canadian Olympic Association through the sale of Olympic paraphernalia.

Beresford will not disclose, for competitive reasons, how much sales went up at McDonald’s thanks to its Olympics involvement, but he will say McDonald’s can analyze its sales ‘virtually by day,’ and, according to those figures, the promotion was ‘extremely successful.’


McDonald’s, says Beresford, enjoyed tremendous synergy with all its partners in this cross-promotion and one partner’s strengths complemented another’s.

Drew Williams, ctv’s director of marketing, says the McDonald’s plan to use Olympic/ctv tray liners, packaging with the Canadian Olympic Association’s logo and plenty of in-store signage excited ctv because such promotional items would help the network link itself to big event tv, a key part of its marketing strategy.

‘One of our objectives going into any big event that we run is to really closely link ctv to the big event, in this case, the Olympics,’ Williams says.

Market presence

‘So, it’s hard to beat the kind of market presence that McDonald’s with its [675] or so stores across Canada could bring to [the Olympics,]‘ he says.

Williams is not exaggerating. Close to two million McDonald’s customers a day were exposed to the ctv/Olympic promotion for its duration.

After the initial agreement, Williams says, ctv went back to the restaurant chain with plans for additional print support, tv advertising and a proposal to sponsor The Norwegian Way, a series of vignettes hosted by ctv newsreader Lloyd Robertson, as well as a Canadian of the Day feature.

He says a second important objective for ctv was the actual broadcasting of the Games in Lillehammer, adding ctv did not simulcast the Winter Games using the cbs feed so the network was able to run its programs the way it wanted.

‘We had actually done some Decima research from our last Olympics in Barcelona, identifying the key elements that viewers said they wanted to see,’ Williams says.

‘Right up at the top was live programming, so we made that a real mainstay of our presentation,’ he says.

‘Another element was a Canadian focus, obviously, and the third element was focussing on three, what we came to call core events, ice hockey, figure-skating and downhill skiing.’

Williams says something else ctv brought to its deal with McDonald’s was pre- and post-Olympics awareness research.

Targetted ‘everyone’

Beresford says the target audience for McDonald’s during the Olympics promotion was simple – everyone.

And given the scope of its efforts, it seems likely just about everyone was reached.

Beresford says McDonald’s ran pre-Olympic spots featuring skiier Michelle Ruthven, skater Elvis Stojko and ctv sportscaster Rod Black, all created by Cossette Communication-Marketing in Toronto, as well as spots during the Games.

As well, McDonald’s sent out a 10.3-million piece direct mailer that promoted the Olympic logo hats the chain was selling, Canadian Olympic Association merchandise and included discount coupons for food and drinks.


Williams says the ctv target had two parts, the first being the core sports viewer, and the second being the fringe sports viewer who makes up the bulk of the Olympic audience.

He says for the core viewers, ctv had an ad campaign that focussed on the ‘blood, sweat and guts’ of sport.

He says fringe viewers – who skew slightly female – are more interested in storytelling; in finding out more about an athlete or a person behind the scenes.

‘I guess the underpinning of the entire Olympic presentation was storytelling to draw in that lighter viewer, and it seemed to work very well,’ Williams says.

Spent a bit more

Beresford is cagey about how much McDonald’s spent on its Olympic cross-promotion, saying only the company did not spend an exceptional amount, but a bit more than usual.

On the other hand, Williams says ctv spent pretty tidy sums on the Olympics.

He says to acquire the Canadian broadcast rights cost US$12 million, and it cost ctv a further C$10 million for production costs.

To put those sums into some context, Williams says cbs spent US$85 million on broadcast expenses.

As for the results of its coverage, he says the A.C. Nielsen ratings show ctv’s audiences were well beyond projections, based as they were on the network’s actual numbers for the last Winter Olympics in Albertville, France.

As well, Williams says pollster Goldfarb Consultants sounded out viewer feedback and word-of-mouth results have been exceptional.

He says ctv took 10,000 calls during the Olympics, and only a handful of them were complaints.

Beresford declines to cite specifics, save one.

As part of the promotion, McDonald’s customers were invited to sign messages of support to the Canadian athletes.

Beresford says between Jan. 14. and Feb. 1, more than 1.5 million people signed the banners which he presented to the athletes at the team dinner the day before the opening ceremony.

As for results from the promotion, Beresford and Williams are emphatic they are all positive.

Williams says although the final analysis is not yet in, it is his guess the lesson learned from the Lillehammer venture was that more advertisers should be encouraged to try what his network and McDonald’s did.

That certainly seems to be what’s happening. As Williams says, ctv did take 45 favored clients to Norway.