Coke, McD Use Olympics To Recharge Canadian Viability

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Two of the leading sponsors of February's Vancouver Olympics said they were able to leverage their involvement in Canada to resuscitate their businesses in that country. Both Coca-Cola and McDonald's laid the groundwork several years before the torch-lighting as excitement and national pride built from Newfoundland to British Columbia.

At Coke, Scott McCune, vice president of integrated marketing, said the company's "business was in decline for the last six years" in Canada. "Brand health" and "company reputation" were significant issues. In McDonald's case, John Lewicki, senior director of alliance marketing, cited "brand health" and "some quality" challenges in Canada.

In addition to a flurry of promotions once the Games kicked off, Coca-Cola backed the lengthy torch run to Vancouver, which often had local celebrities carry the flame and nearly full towns show up to watch. McDonald's had a "Hopefuls" program, which supported 26 athletes across the Canadian provinces as they hoped to qualify for the Olympics. That grassroots effort aimed to build local support.

McCune and Lewicki spoke Tuesday about their respective companies' Canadian efforts at an IMG sports marketing symposium in New York.

McCune said "Canada is a great success story for us ... we were literally able to reverse all those [negative] trends" as it was able to motivate stakeholders throughout its system from bottlers to retailers.

The torch-relay relationship was a continuation of a Coca-Cola-wide marketing shift from "exposure to experiences to engagement." Looking to upgrade its image in Canada, Coke zeroed in on the torch run as a way to back causes, such as active living and recycling.

Similarly, Lewicki said the Olympic sponsorship was a "game changer" for McDonald's and "effectively turned our business around in Canada." McDoanld's has 150,000 people working at the store level there, and the Olympics served as a rallying "tent pole."

"The entire country of Canada fully embraced the Olympics for the better part of three years ... the platform focused our entire company on a singular event leading into Vancouver," he said.

The "Hopefuls" program started three years out, looking to give each province a more direct stake in the lead-up to Vancouver, since residents could follow their "home" athlete.

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