Recently, a 41-year relationship ended between McDonald’s and The IOC–International Olympic Committee. There is much speculation as to the real reasons behind the mutual agreement to end this deal 3 years early under the most recent terms. Some say it’s because of ethical issues with the IOC. Some think McDonald’s is low on money as we all attempt to eat healthier. Some argue the two should’ve never been partners in the first place–fast food and sport superiority do not go together. Maybe Ronald McDonald, Grimace, Hamburglar, Birdie the Early Bird, and Mayor McCheese are no longer interested in using the Olympic rings as hula hoops for exercise. No matter what your thoughts on the end of this partnership may be, all signs point to Sponsor Fatigue.

Sponsor Fatigue occurs when partners are no longer experiencing the benefits of working together. It is caused when objectives are only partially being achieved (if at all), there are personality clashes, and/or the relationship is not being managed to the satisfaction of the sponsor. In other words, to quote the late, great B.B. King, “The Thrill Is Gone”.

In the case of McDonald’s and the IOC, neither party was experiencing the benefits of working together anymore partially because of the shift in us-the educated consumer. Forty-one years ago, we thought McDonald’s was no different than eating a home-made burger. As we’ve become more educated, we’ve learned that isn’t true. We’ve also become a more vocal society because we have access to social media. Everything we think can be shared with friends and followers who are influenced by our opinions and perhaps that caused both partners to question their relationship. Should a fast-food restaurant partner with the organization whose job is literally to determine the best athletes in the world?

McDonald’s doesn’t want to offer artisan salads and lattes to compete with Starbucks. They have to because WE’VE evolved and our evolution has likely led to the examination of this sponsorship’s activation on both sides. Though we know that McDonald’s was THE favored restaurant of choice in the 2016 Olympic Village, what happened to those sales once the Olympics left town? Heck, what happened to Rio once the Olympics left town? (Hint: it wasn’t good.) Public turmoil and bad press by the property you sponsor is definitely grounds for sponsor fatigue. McDonald’s is still recovering from the movie, Super Size Me. They didn’t need the IOC’s missteps to pile on.

So how do you cure sponsor fatigue?

  1. Listen to your sponsor. If the relationship between McDonald’s endured for 41 years before being cancelled, at the end of the day there were a few people who communicated with each other well for many years. I’m sure Hilda* at the IOC knew the McRib or the Shamrock Shake was coming before we did. And Greg* from McDonald’s knew which cities were making the short list for the 1996 Olympics. Sponsors and properties are partners. What affects one often impacts the other in some manner. It’s important to share information and listen.
  2. Be flexible. In 41 years, we’ve gone from 3 main TV channels to thousands. We’ve gone from phones that hung on the kitchen wall to cordless to mobile phones in a bag to flip phones to smart phones that no one actually talks on anymore. Internet, social media–all of that came along during the last 41 years. How many times do you think McDonald’s and the IOC had to adjust their contracts and activations based on something new that they needed to leverage to make the partnership a success? You must do the same. It helps cure fatigue if, as the property, you open that conversation.
  3. Be Kenny Rogers. You read that right. You gotta know when to hold them, know when to fold them, know when to walk away, know when to RUN. Sometimes, the cure is to walk away and/or to RUN. In the case of McDonald’s and the IOC, both are walking away amicably. The IOC doesn’t need McDonald’s making their athletes fat. McDonald’s doesn’t need the IOC’s international scandals impacting the international sales of Big Macs and Quarter Pounders. (That’s why they have FIFA!) As your needs change, so will your partnerships. And sometimes, the change will be to end the relationship. If you represent the property, you’ll likely know this is coming before it arrives. The sponsor will become focused on some obscure activation point they’ve never cared about. Or, the entire direction of their business has shifted so their target market has changed and it’s one you don’t serve. If that’s the case, then take McDonald’s and the IOC’s lead and walk away. Find new partners and win with them.

*Names have been changed to protect the innocent.

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