Olympics-Sponsors step up pace to get Olympic mileage

BEIJING (Reuters) - McDonald’s brought out dancing girls, Ronald McDonald and U.S. gold medallist Carl Lewis on Thursday in a bid to hype its involvement in the Beijing Olympics, where corporate sponsors risk losing ground to ambush marketing.

McDonald’s is one of 12 global sponsors paying up to $100 million each to sponsor the Beijing Games and use the Olympics images and logos, hoping their links to the massive media event will pay off and help them snare China’s 1.3 billion consumers.

Lewis, who shares the Olympic record of nine career golds with three other athletes, smiled and cheered his way through a McDonald’s burger-making contest topped with pounding pop music.

“I eat McDonald’s. I’ve always eaten McDonald’s. I even worked at McDonald’s. It was my first job,” Lewis, 47, who won nine Olympic gold medals before retiring in 1997, told Reuters.

But it remains yet to be seen whether the global sponsors will get bang for their Beijing Olympic buck.

The sponsors have been criticised by international human rights activists who say they are tacitly endorsing China’s human rights record and have also fallen prey to ambush marketing, where companies try to link themselves to the Olympics even if they are not official sponsors.

Two of the official sponsors, computer maker Lenovo and Kodak, have already announced that they will not be continuing their Olympic links after Beijing.

Lenovo spokeswoman Geraldine Kan said sponsoring the 2006 Turin Winter Olympics and 2008 Olympic Games were a good way for the Chinese company to raise brand awareness worldwide.

“As we look to the future and the continued roll-out of the consumer offering, we will be focusing our marketing investments on more targeted initiatives at the regional, national and country levels,” she told Reuters by e-mail.

The other global sponsors are General Electric, which owns NBC Universal and has exclusive U.S. TV broadcast rights for the Games, Coca-Cola, Samsung, Omega, Visa, Johnson & Johnson, Panasonic, Manulife and Atos Origin.

A study by Collective Intellect, a U.S.-based company that tracks conversations in the blogosphere and on social-media sites, found Visa, Coca Cola and McDonald’s were most discussed but a majority of comments, or 51 percent, were negative.

Media tracking company The Global Language Monitor (GLM) said ambush marketing was impacting the sponsors by muddying the consumer view of which companies had official Olympic links.

An analysis of the sponsors’ performance by GLM found Samsung, Coca-Cola and McDonald’s were ahead when it came to how often brand names were linked to the Olympics in the media.

But GLM President Paul Payack he said three brands that were not official sponsors had hit the list of companies getting the most mileage out of Olympic links -- Nike, Pepsi and Dreamworks Animation, which made the hit movie “Kung Fu Panda.”

“These non-global sponsor companies appear to be doing quite well off their ‘ties’ to the Beijing Games ... and in some cases outperform the global sponsors,” said Payack.

(Editing by Alex Richardson)

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