The QSR giant made its presence known in Rio, and it had nothing to do with traditional advertising.
Every four years, some of the biggest brands in the world come together and compete for the gold medal in Olympic advertising. According to the Independent, official sponsors like Coca-Cola and Samsung shelled out upwards of $120 million to be associated with Olympics, not including their ad budgets. Furthermore, other brands — which the U.S. Olympic Committee ordered not to mention or even retweet anything mentioning Rio 2016, the Olympics, Team USA, or any other trademarked phrases — put together serious content marketing strategies to ride the waves of the Olympic storm.
But one company truly won the Olympic gold — and it had nothing to do with its advertising.
Although McDonald’s was an official Olympic sponsor, the restaurant’s social media success wasn’t related to its Twitter or Instagram strategy. McDonald’s made headlines because the athletes couldn’t stop binging on its food.
After losing his badminton match, Australian athlete Sawan Serasinghe went viral for posting his gold-medal sized McDonald’s meal. (He was treating himself after a lot of eating clean.)
Wow what a week it has been in Rio! Have to say I am disappointed about the match today. We definitely had a good chance to stretch the match to three sets toward the end of the second set but couldn't close it out. We would have loved to end our first Olympic campaign with a win against a much higher ranked pair. Although having said that, there are lots of good things to learn from the matches in the last three days playing against more experienced pairs. Can't wait to go back home to start training and keep on improving! Just want to say thanks again to everyone back home for the on going support. Definitely motivated me to fight hard on court everyday! ❤️ Now it's time to eat some junk food after months of eating clean! ?
And Serasinghe wasn’t the only one — Olympians lined up to get their chicken nugget fix, rain or shine. And journalists took notice.
Line at Athletes Village McDonald's, 4 pm. Don't let them tell you healthy eating is the key to making Olympics. pic.twitter.com/qfMtiJ3wSN
— John Branch (@JohnBranchNYT) August 3, 2016
“We’re so pathetic,” Samoan freestyle swimmer Brandon Schuster told The Washington Post. “It’s raining, and we’re waiting in line for McDonald’s.”
Schuster was 54th in line. According to the Washington Post, the Chinese basketball team started eating their Big Macs starting at 9 a.m., and the line would get so long that volleyball players would be practicing around the queue.
And gold medalists like Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt Snapchatted their meals at Mickey Dee’s, acting as unofficial spokespeople, free of charge.
Uh oh, @usainbolt ⚡️ has found @McDonalds Chicken McNuggets in #Rio:https://t.co/F75ohcTAqf pic.twitter.com/0DiemmhIj6
— CanadianRunning (@CanadianRunning) August 5, 2016
In his biography, Bolt wrote that he ate approximately 1,000 chicken nuggets during the Beijing Olympics. Another unofficial spokesman was swimmer Ryan Lochte, who reportedly ate almost every meal at McDonald’s in Beijing in between winning four gold medals.
Having a good product that star athletes love was better buzz than any ad campaign could buy.
Although all this attention did create a minor problem at the McDonald’s in the Rio Olympic village. Lines got so out of control that employees had had to limit athletes to a maximum of 20 items per order.
But while waiting in the rain for his fries, Samoan swimmer Schuster told the Washington Post his solution to that problem. “They should have two McDonald’s.”
Maybe in Tokyo.