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In this modern age of businesses thriving to improve and grow their image, corporate social responsibility (CSR) has played a significant role in providing entities with the opportunity to appeal positively to society. Originally CSR was characterised as entities who were willing to exceed society’s expectations rather than perform to match law requirements. CSR has become a business model that aids companies in being socially liable to its stakeholders, society and itself. CSR is defined by how we create value and trade with each other. It is about the kinds of societies that we want to create and live in (Hond et al. 2007). CSR initiatives have grown increasingly popular with companies as it provides a dual purpose; of increasing exposure and profitability as well as effectively contributing to societal wellness. Entities have used sport sponsorship to increase their publicity and social image. Throughout this paper we will examine McDonald’s CSR initiative to sponsor sporting organisations and events. While also providing context of society’s perspective towards McDonalds, we will discuss the effects of their CSR initiative and whether it has provided a demonstrated impact or has been exercised for the benefits of public relations symbolism.
One of America’s many fast food companies, McDonald’s, was founded in 1940 in San Bernardino, California, United States. 31 years later in 1971, McDonald’s opened their first Australian restaurant in Yagoona, Sydney. Since then, the fast food company has grown to over 970 venues within Australia and can be found in 120 countries across the world. Through research performed by the market research company Roy Morgan, McDonald’s was declared as Australia’s favourite fast food restaurant. It was discovered that within 17 million Australians, 52.7% were eating McDonald’s on an average of six to twelve months in 2018 (Roy Morgan 2018). Although McDonald’s popularity has continued to attract consistent customers and maintains an inviting and tasteful menu at an affordable price tag, the company has unfortunately aligned itself with negative health correlations. The Australian Dietary Guidelines highlights that people should eat less saturated fats, more complex carbohydrates and more fibre in order to control weight gaining leading to overweight and obesity. In a study conducted by Nasseem Malouf and Stephen Colagiuri, they stated that McDonald’s, Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) and Pizza Hut generally contains a high percentage in fat, particularly saturated fat, high in kilojoules and low in fibre (Malouf & Colagiuri 1995). This brings rise to the potential risks of obesity to those who consistently include McDonald’s and other fast foods in their diet and open themselves up to the prospect of type II diabetes. In a study of type II diabetes combined with the data from the 1995 National Nutrition Survey, it was estimated that 55% of Australian adults were overweight or obese. Using these figures, 41% of type II diabetes in Australia was an indication that overweight and obesity was responsible (Marks, Coyne & Pang 2001). The Huffington Post reports that 49.8 per cent of Australians meet the Australian Dietary Guidelines and that those who indulge in fast food visit McDonald’s at least once a month (Campbell 2016).
Now that we have established an overlay of the facts surrounding the history of McDonald’s that will contribute to the analysing of its motives regarding their sport sponsorship, we must ask ourselves why this fast food company which has a history of providing products which are unhealthful, chooses to align its image with sport and exercise. The sport industry has become increasingly aware of its influence on the communities in which it operates and uses this influence to support positions within the social responsibility agenda (Gill 2017). The use of sport sponsorship is not uncommon within entities as pairing a company with sport contributes to media objectives, marketing effectiveness and broader corporate objectives (Pope & Voges 2000). In tandem, using sport holds a positive connotation within society as the United Nations promotes the use of sport as a tool for development and peace. Sponsoring a range of sports and athletes not only allows for exposure of a brand but allows for the branding of a company to be perceived in a positive environment thus catering for an entity’s CSR. In a paper discussing the use of sport for the promotion of CSR, it states “the nature of sport lends itself to being uniquely positioned to influence society and communities in particular. Sports organisations are already implicitly woven into society” (Smith & Westerbeek 2007). McDonald’s use of sponsoring sporting events and organisations allows for sporting fans to remember the brand in accordance to sporting experiences and memories. After close examination of McDonald’s Australia’s major sponsored groups such as Little Athletics NSW, Swimming Queensland, South Australian National Football League junior development program and the Macca’s Junior Sports Grants, we are able to pinpoint McDonald’s target market for their CSR initiative. Common features which are mirrored throughout each of these groups, this includes the organization of children sport at a grassroots level. In a journal discussing the sponsorship of junior sport development programs in Australia, they specify that children are a major target market for advertising, as they aid in determining their parents’ purchases, they have their own personal expenses and have the ability to become devoted to a brand and an established consumer. Sponsorship of development programs presents companies an opportunity to surround children to their brand and encourage a connection between the children and the brand (Watson, Brunner, Wellard & Hughes 2016). A side from the laws restricting the advertising of tobacco under the Tobacco Advertising Prohibition Act 1992 and the highly frowned upon advertising of alcohol around children, there are no restrictions towards sport sponsorship in Australia. Any company has the liberty to advertise their brand through the arrangement of being a sponsor to an athlete, organisation or event. Reoccurring exposure to children as well as associating with experiences in which many children share an emotional attachment, benefits an entity in standardising their brand or product. This begs the question of whether McDonald’s is genuinely concerned and honestly have the will to promote grass root sports or whether they are profiting off the malleable and influenceable minds of children.
Although McDonald’s expresses that the purpose for their sponsorship support is to promote health and wellbeing, should we recognise their efforts as a CSR initiative in which positively impacts society. McDonald’s have stated on their website, “We like to focus on activities that improve the health and wellbeing of Australian children. We contribute to sporting organisations that develop kids’ sports skills and provide opportunities for them to play” (McDonald’s Australia (2018). However, after understanding that McDonalds, although not solely responsible but contributes to occurring health problems in Australia in terms of overweight and obesity, should we identify the brand with notions of wellbeing and health, more specifically in the same environment as children. Year after year parental concern is voiced in relation to the issue at hand, being the advertisements of McDonald’s within a child’s sporting setting. In 2012 a website, Essential Kids, which aids in providing parental advice through forums and articles made known the burden in which McDonald’s sponsorship involves, “I don’t care how concerned McDonald’s are about grass-roots sports, the only thing my kids’ think when they see the Golden Arches is what burger and fries combo they want me to buy them, not kicking a footy around” (Malone 2012). Another news website The Conversation issued an article regarding the “Unhealthy Sport Sponsorship continuities to Target Children”, where they highlight McDonald’s as being a sponsor across a range of organisation involving children sport (The Conversation 2016). Most recently this year, Mumbrella, an Australian marketing and media industry news website published McDonald’s reprimand for advertising to children after a parent complained to the Ad Standards. The parent noted, “It is hard enough to promote a healthy lifestyle to children in this environment, I don’t appreciate junk food being given to them as an award during a sporting activity. This encourages bad lifestyle choices of eating junk food following sporting activity and goes against everything I teach my children” (Dawson 2018). CSR initiatives stand for contributing to society in a beneficial manner. After highlighting complaints and allegations which have been made towards the fast food company, is it enough to say that McDonald’s CSR initiative does not provide a demonstrated impact in a positive manner.
Finally, in June of 2017 McDonald’s signed a sponsorship deal with eSports to partner with StarCraft 2 World Championship eSports Series, “the sponsorship, Australia-only at this stage, includes naming, on-ground activations, content integration and branding across all touchpoints linked to the event” (Hickman 2017). There have already been multiple studies that have investigated the negative effects of entertainment computer games. The effects of these games on an individual can be expressed through social cognitive theory where violence from a game can be internalized and transferred to the real world and excitation transfer theory where residual excitement from a previous game playing may serve to intensify a later emotional state of a game player (Lee & Peng 2006). StarCraft 2 World Championship eSports Series receives over millions of viewers throughout its duration each year, exposing McDonald’s brand to a growing audience as eSports continues to evolve. Computer games do not typically involve physical exercise and promotion of healthy living. Coupling two industries with known health concerns involved could potentially cause trends in health problems to those who take part in such activities. Therefore, it is evident that McDonald’s sponsorship support of eSports does not include using their CSR initiative to benefit society but use it as a veneer to hide their true desires of branding promotion.
To conclude this paper, it is important that we have identified the definition of CSR which is being held liable by stakeholders, society and itself in order to better societal wellness. In conjunction are the ways in which CSR are being used; increasing exposure and profitability. An overlay of the facts surrounding the history of McDonald’s provided a window into the nature and factual impression which surrounds the company. McDonald’s Australia’s major sponsored groups such as Little Athletics NSW, Swimming Queensland, South Australian National Football League junior development program and the Macca’s Junior Sports Grants, produced the relevant information to understand that McDonald’s target market for sponsorships mostly encompasses organizations of children sport at a grassroots level. After classifying the use of children in sport for marketing to be unique and advantageous, we are able to understand that McDonald’s has less awareness for demonstrated impacted rather than their strategy to boost public relations symbolism and profitability. The use of articles which focused on parental concern of McDonald’s advertising in the same environment of children sport provides evidence that this initiative does not conform to the CSR criteria of benefiting society. This can also be seen through McDonald’s actions to sponsor eSports as they have a following of millions, as a result McDonald’s will be able to profit off this exposure. It is now clear that McDonald’s use of CSR initiative does not concern itself in growing communities and contributing to society but regards its personal interest of profits as the number one priority.
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