It’s been a slippery slope for McDonald’s in Sochi.
As a lead sponsor of the Olympics, a privilege that’s rumored to cost more than $100 million, it was supposed to be their time to shine. Instead, the company’s lukewarm support of human rights has brought protests, boycotts, and a media nightmare to their physical and cyber doorsteps.
It’s a giant misstep for the usually savvy multinational marketer.
McDonald’s seems unprepared for the backlash, yet there was plenty of warning. The controversy began last June when a law banning “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations” was passed by Russia’s Federal Assembly and signed into law by President Vladimir Putin. The policy was condemned by athletes, activists, governments, and citizens from around the world.
It should have been the moment for a global business leader like McDonald’s to take a stand on this pressing public issue.
The Olympics are not the time for political grandstanding, but they can be a platform for building awareness. All it would take is a clear and unequivocal public position affirming support for non-discrimination and equality and denouncing anti-LGBT laws and the hate-based violence and human rights abuses they incite.
McDonald’s restaurants in dozens of cities around the world became the target of protests and college activists campaigned to evict campus outlets, but the most damage was inflicted by McDonald’s widely mocked and parodied social media campaign Cheers to Sochi. Its hashtag (#CheerstoSochi) was meant to send messages of support to American athletes but instead it was hijacked by LGBT activists who took over the conversation on sites like Twitter and Facebook. The farcical Cheers to Sochi site has been translated into Japanese, German, French and Russian. It’s been flooded with criticism of McDonald’s inaction, and has also become an aggregator for stories highlighting Russian repression.
As of this writing, posts to the parody site outnumber those to the official site by a 10-to-1 margin.
Nearly 100 nations, thousands of athletes, 14,000 press outlets.
With the eyes of the world on Sochi, the global Olympic sponsors have the opportunity and platform for impressions that will last long after the final bobsled run. Just think of the impact if McDonald’s had used the occasion and resources to share a message of tolerance.