Should certain types of brands be prohibited from sponsoring sport? The Marketing Society Forum

McDonald's and Coca-Cola have been criticised as unsuitable Olympic sponsors in some quarters.


This is not a simple question, because many food companies make a range of products from healthy to confectionery. The McDonald's menu of today is different from five years ago.

In light of this, a blanket ban seems arbitrary. The nature of sponsorships, the claims made and the products put forward require careful thought.

Much work has been done on labelling and recommended daily consumption guidelines. I also question the focus on sports sponsorships; surely showing food in the context of an active lifestyle is more valid than other options? If the brands provide choice and promote responsibly, the issue is addressed.


This is not the most important question, however. We know obesity is rising and that even in this Olympic year, sports participation and activity levels are decreasing.

So, I agree with the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges that there needs to be a more interventionist policy. Leaving it down to consumer choice is patently not working, and evidence from the tobacco industry suggests intervention has an impact.

How this manifests in reality is complex, and while I don't believe it is as simple as inhibiting one aspect of the marketing mix in a blanket ban, the issue is not going away and needs action.


This should be a last resort, however. What was once acceptable becomes unacceptable as society changes. When the ban on tobacco sponsorship was introduced, it took regulation to enforce it, but now it is accepted.

Promotion has become less and less acceptable in today's society and restrictions been introduced.

I prefer self-regulation. The modern approach to CSR is as much about doing the right thing as merely being seen to do it.

Consumers will defect if brands do not adjust their products to deal with issues such as obesity. Sporting bodies have a chance to exercise their responsibility to align with brands that share the values they want to promote.


It's wrong to place the blame for obesity at the door of brands like McDonald's. The issue runs much deeper than brand sponsorship.

It and other brands, such as Coca-Cola, have responded well, introducing healthier options. Many brand sponsors also do effective CSR work around events.

Moreover, with many sports clubs getting more than 40% of revenue from sponsorship, we need to look at how they would survive amid further restrictions.

No - Tom Davis, formerly marketing director at Action for Children, now CEO of Computer Aid International

I can easily see why this has been mooted - the powerful influence of the food and drink industry on politics and within consumer society is well and thoroughly documented over time - but bans should be a last resort, and I think that the tobacco comparison only partially works.  However, I think that some regulations may be inevitable if voluntary codes and agreements fail.  It's similar to IT, where manufacturers need to take full responsibility for the reuse/recycling of their products.

Marketers naturally dislike banning sponsorships but, equally, cannot deny that said sponsorships influence the choice of category and brand - otherwise, why use them? - and by extension consumption of food and drink, and need to take these calls to action by the medical profession seriously


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