McDonald’s Faces Scrutiny in 2012 London Olympics


McDonald’s has long been under fire for its genetically modified food practices. It has further been accused as disrupting American farms. Now, the food industry giant has a problem overseas. London, the home of the 2012 Olympics, recently witnessed the world’s largest McDonald’s being built. The 1,500 seat, 32,000-square-foot, and 2-floor restaurant is located in Olympic Park. This location is expected to sell more than 50,000 Big Macs during the Olympics.

The new location is causing a serious backlash. A group named the London Assembly is raging a ban on McDonald’s during the games. The group alleges that McDonald’s helps increase the growing obesity epidemic in their country. It is said that 60.8 percent of adults and 31.1 percent of children are overweight in the UK. Moreover, McDonald’s refuses to abide by guidelines to use a specific percentage of its produce from farms within the UK. Groups suggested to the International Olympic Committee that hosts of the games must conform to strict rules to not outsource a large number of products as a basis to increase profits within the UK. McDonald’s will only source half of its ingredients from the UK.

McDonald’s believes that it should be allowed to operate how it sees fit because the organization has reportedly spent close to $100 million dollars over the course of four years for hosting the games as a sponsor. However, more problems arise from the manner in which McDonald’s marketing communications has responded. The chief executive at McDonald’s UK believes the location in the Athletes Village will be the most busy. One would have to be delusional to believe that athletes will run to grab a Big Mac. McDonald’s has also responded by stating:

Did you that McDonald’s will recycle and reuse 100 percent of the furniture and equipment, and nearly all of the building materials from these restaurants, for future and existing restaurants. All types of materials – from the beams to the wiring to the kitchen equipment – will be labeled for sorting and relocating to future destinations following the Games.

Yes, this is a good move, but it is a subterfuge. Will they follow through with it? This is not the first time McDonald’s has faced marketing controversy. Earlier this year, McDonald’s did a social media promotion on Twitter to encourage people to tweet their favorite McDonald’s stories using hashtags. Subsequently, the promotion became an utter fail. The organization was received with stories about finding worms in their meals and serious health conditions from the food. Yet, McDonald’s has received high scores for its social media marketing on Facebook and Twitter over similar organizations like Taco Bell, Chipotle, and Subway.

McDonald’s should have better marketing plans in place in case of backfire. Today, communication travels fast and it seems like McDonald’s does not understand how to cope with backfires or simply does not care about saving face. Sadly, 1 in 10 visitors at the Olympics will eat at the fast food chain. McDonald’s is in the business of making money, but it does not seem to realize how large its impact is on the people and communities around its locations.

The organization’s marketing efforts should include changes to alter how consumers view their products. One initiative that could change the organization’s image would involve actually using produce from local farms. Healthy alternatives that are not genetically modified would greatly improve not only its image, but also the people who consume their food. The organization should take advantage of its online communities and urge for their consumers’ suggestions and actually act on them.

Please let me know how you feel about this issue and leave a comment.

Here is a time-lapse video of the location being erected.

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9 Responses to McDonald’s Faces Scrutiny in 2012 London Olympics

  1. Lauren McCarthy says:

    I wasn’t aware of the social media fallout on Twitter, but that’s pretty funny. How did McDonald’s respond to its consumers bashing the company when it was supposed to be warm and fuzzy mealtime stories?

    Personally, I think the restaurant is going to make a killing during the Games. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a McDonald’s anywhere in the world that wasn’t packed, so I can only imagine how packed this one will be. I do think they should use all UK products, though; a few months ago I was unfortunate enough to eat at a McDonald’s in Geneva (it was a national holiday and seriously the only thing open!), and the packaging proudly stated “100% Swiss Beef.” Maybe the newest UK restaurant is nervous doing that because of bad press from mad cow in the UK. There is certainly not a reason, though, that they couldn’t source all of the other food direct from UK farmers.

  2. Nicholas Rodgers says:

    Hi Thomas,

    Thanks for sharing. Your post got me thinking. I wasn’t aware that McDonald’s was facing this much scrutiny from the London Assembly. I am not a big fan of McDonalds, but I disagree with the idea to ban McDonalds and Coca-Cola from the games.

    First, I disagree with the claim that McDonalds will add to the obesity epidemic by increasing the UK’s overweight statistics. I believe that the UK will have many Olympic attendees from all over the world. The quote from the McDonald’s spokesperson in the “Will the London Olympics Ban McDonald’s and Coca-Cola?” article that you linked to your post sums up exactly how I feel. “Ultimately it’s up to individuals to make the right food, drink, and activity choices for themselves.”

    Second, McDonalds and Coca-Cola have been associated with the Olympics for years. London should have expected this type of marketing relationship when trying to win the opportunity to host the games. Why is this scrutiny all of sudden coming up? Is someone up for reelection soon? I am just very skeptical and bothered when government officials step in when it is convenient for them, not really for the purpose of the cause. I am just saying that it would be a HUGE political victory as the person who started the movement to change the Olympics to be a healthier event for the attendees.

    Also, I do think it would have played to McDonalds advantage to utilize more of the UK’s resources for their ingredients. Logistically it might have meant a higher operations expense; however, I think it would have been a great PR move to show that they are significantly supporting the local economy.

  3. Mike Nicholson says:

    Hi Thomas,
    I think that McDonalds is one of those companies that is in a unique position that it doesn’t have to be bothered by relatively minor protests. Just look at the amount of money it spends and it makes. Any time you have something like the Olympics and a company like McDonalds, it is bound to attract those groups who want to leverage that attention and brings exposure towards their cause. Im sure there are a number of other causes that are looking towards the Olympics and some of the sponsors as a way to attract media attention.

    I would assume that since McDonalds is as big as it is, and has years and years of experience doing these kinds of things, that their PR team would have looked at a number of different crisis communication scenarios in the lead-up to the Olympics. I had not heard of any backlash until your post, but granted Im in a unique place right now and not that in tune to some of the non-Afghanistan media going on at the moment.

    After reading your post, I wonder if the company determined that the best course of action was not to do anything because in doing so, they might give the group an even larger podium on which to stand. Especially given the amount of money it has invested, I’d bet that they are watching this group and many others like it, but will be selective whether or not to actively engage with them. One one had Im sure they have to be aware of and track all kinds of scrutiny, but on the other they may not want to give these groups any more exposure.


  4. mirish says:

    Thanks for sharing this story. I was also unaware of the negative results of social media campaigns. I agree with some of the comments listed above, I find it interesting that this is all happening now when plans for McDonald’s sponsorship has long been arranged. I agree that it would be nice of McDonald’s to use local produce, but in the end it is a company trying to make money. Even with this negative attention I think that McDonald’s will do well during the Olympics. It will likely be one of the more affordable places to grab a quick bite for fans who have traveled (and spent a lot of money to do so) from afar.

  5. lywalker says:

    Thanks for sharing this story Thomas. This reminds me of a similar post made earlier this semester by Xiomara Moncada. McDonald’s and none of these other fast food joints aren’t doing anything but what they are in business to do, make money. They can’t survive if the public doesn’t patronize them and walking into a McDonald’s is always the customer’s choice…as is their decision to supersize or not opt for the salad and apple slices. We as the public contribute to our obesity problem, by making those choices and not exercising when we do make those choices, not this or any other company.

    I, like Mike who also responded, wonders, who’s up for re-election. McDonald’s and Coca-Cola are as much a part of the Olympics as the athletes themselves. I would think that crisis communication scenarios have been thought through and reviewed on the part of McDonald’s communication army with a fine tooth comb. I do think McDonald’s should have used more local resources to avoid that negative press. Frankly, given how they generally operate, I am surprised they didn’t, but then the bottom line is always profit. Their approach to say nothing…sometimes that not justifying comments with a response is better. It takes two to “argue” and the press is likely to die on the vine quicker if there is no fuel for further fodder.

  6. Jesus Torres says:

    Interesting post Thomas. I agree with Mike in that McDonald’s probably gets so many “haters” that its become normal. I work for a huge Dow 30 company myself and our Facebook and Twitter feeds are full of negativity. You only respond to folks who have a genuine problem and tune out the noise. Similarly, McDonald’s shouldn’t dignify every criticism it gets but I do agree that it can do more to integrate itself to the local community by selling organically grown produce and local fare such as crumpets, instead of the Apple Pie. Ultimately, it is a business decision, but making a PR effort to push its healthy menu and local partnerships can help stave off some criticism.

    Thanks for your post.

  7. kopec says:

    This is a very interesting post Thomas, It never ceases to amaze me how McDonalds responds to concerns that they serve unhealthy food that has been shipped long distances by changing the conversation, like in this cases talking about how they will reuse their mega restaurant. They have demonstrated over time a refusal to listen to listen to their critics or their dissatisfied customers, so it’s not surprising that the social media campaign backfired! As bad as their food and communications efforts seem to be, they are still super successful in terms of sales and profit. Sadly this temple of obesity in the midst of the Olympics will probably be successful too and attract many customers, so the question remains, if people keep coming, how critical can we be about their communications efforts?

  8. Michele Caldwell says:

    Hi Thomas,

    I enjoyed reading your blog! While watching the Olympic Opening Ceremonies I was surprised to see so many advertisements for McDonald’s. I quickly realized that McDonald’s was attracting consumers to its restaurants by featuring foods less than 400 calories. These products are linked to the number of gold medals USA athletes receive during the London Olympics. According to this website (, consumers will obtain a game piece when purchasing selected items from McDonald’s menu. Although the opportunity to win prizes may entice consumers to visit McDonald’s more frequently throughout the Olympic Games, it is also increasing the amount of fast food purchased. For example, consumers are likely to purchase unhealthy items in addition to these featured products.

    Your blog highlights many interesting facts such as how much money McDonald’s has spent for sponsoring the Olympics and its refusal to use produce from farms within the UK. I agree that McDonald’s should consider suggestions brought forward by its online communities. It seems that the corporation will run its business the way it wants as it is a large contributor to the Olympic Games (including the recycle and reuse project following the Games). Moreover, the company will continue to represent itself the way it always has; this way has worked in the past and will work in the future. By promoting the “Gold Medal Game” it seems that McDonald’s has acted on recommendations for offering healthy alternatives; however, has disregarded efforts to utilize produce from local farms.

    Very interesting blog! Thanks for sharing!

  9. Neda Assadi says:

    Hi Thomas –

    I was actually reading about this last week. Both McDonald’s and Coca-Cola have faced media scrutiny as major sponsors of the Olympics games. In fact Jacques Rogge, International Olympic Committee (IOC) President, told the media that “Coca-Cola and McDonald’s may be inappropriate sponsors” (“Right kind of sponsors,” 2012). Well of course! McDonald’s is a fast food chain as we all know, and Coca- Cola produces beverages infused with sugar! But I found it interesting for the IOC president to being up these thought points as the Olympics are now underway. Does he have any leverage in determining sponsors and their subsequent involvement in the games?

    But now take a look at how Rogge contradicts his own statements. Once it’s revealed that McDonald’s and Coca-Cola have waived receiving any U.K. tax exemptions, Rogge goes to the media to praise the two organizations. (“U.K. tax exemptions,” 2012). Oh, politics!

    Coca-Cola and McDonald’s each pay almost $1 billion to sponsor winter and summer Olympics over the next four years. While I understand that there is concern about the health risks that come with consuming the products of these organizations, there is no denying the huge global scale these two brands bring to the table. They are iconic brands, who have long partnered with sporting events, notably the Olympics.

    If these brands have the capability to sponsor such a highly-watched event, and if their participation is approved, I would have to side with the brands on this one. The whole idea of business, marketing, and publicity is to get your brand out into the ether. The Olympics are like the Super Bowl, to some degree. A huge platform, global appeal, and potential to help brands explode.

    People don’t have to consume the products they see in advertisements. We have the freedom to pick and choose. No one is forcing us! McDonald’s has taken initiative to revamp its menu, and as we have read during this semester, takes responsibility in providing healthier alternatives to its traditional food items.

    Although I completely agree in a lifestyle, I can’t help but think that a lot of this criticism is coming from the “let’s attack big business” mentality. There is definitely corporate responsibility organizations need to consider in its operation, but I don’t see anything wrong with McDonald’s and Coca-Cola to sponsor the games. They are well-known, popular brands that are universally known and loved by many people. Much like the Olympics, these brands are recognized all over the planet.

    Doherty, J. (2012, July 21). Olympic challenge: The skinny on sponsors. Retrieved from

    Weir, K. (2012, July 18,). Olympics-Coke, McDonald’s waive UK tax exemption. Retrieved from