McDonald’s Tries to Make a Happy Meal of the 2012 Olympics [VIDEO]

When you think about the Golden Arches, the first thing that leaps to mind may not be zero-fat bodies launching themselves at athletic glory. But McDonald’s is shooting for a spot among the content strategy winners at this summer’s Olympic games.

Case in point: the company’s video short “Rivals” — For the Olympic Spirit in Us All.

“Para los McNuggets?” says one child to another, pointing at a tree in the distant yellow grass, to which they then run. Presumably the winner gets all the chicken.

“Happy Meal?” asks another little girl of her soon-to-be competitor friend, the sun flushing the sky behind a pair of palm trees on an idyllic sandy beach. They too set off in a neck-and-neck break, all to win a boxed-up supper prize.

At the short’s end, U.S. and German Olympic basketball players stride past the five colored rings, and, yes, they make a french-fry winner’s wager from the bench. Just beyond the lockers, a roaring London crowd awaits them.

“It’s a tough stretch, at best,” says Peter Shankman, chief executive of The Geek Factory, a Manhattan-based social media and marketing strategy firm. He’s not optimistic about McDonald’s effort to link fast food with global champions of sport.

“It’s just not going to work,” he said. “People know what McDonald’s is, and it is what it is.”

You can’t seem to tell McDonald’s that, however. The fast food empire seems intent on altering some of the possible perceptions about its brand.

In an announcement at the start of the Games, company executives said the restaurant chain was making a push not only to celebrate the idea of serving its foods to athletes, but also to promote new menu selections that align the brand with better health.

To help sell that idea, they’re taking the message to social media.

In another YouTube video, McDonald’s Executive Chef Dan Coudreaut is picking out fresh vegetables at a market. He chooses an eggplant — an item that may or may not, one can’t help but think, ever appear on a McDonald’s menu — and then he introduces a cooking segment.

The recipe, created by a young winner of a challenge to incorporate “fun” fruits and veggies ideas into meals, is called “Champion Chicken Sticks with Olympic Spirit Sauce and Salad.”

Essentially, it’s skewered chicken with a salad on the side, and a soy-and-marmalade dressing. A crowd of children look on as the duo cooks this. “That is awesome,” Coudreaut tells the younger chef.

Other content that McDonald’s is creating for its online marketing of the Olympic sponsorship is at once more conventional and sometime just a bit oblique.

In a film series titled The Best of Our Best, its employees walk about London and do things somewhat connected to themes such as engagement and friendship. There’s nothing to do with food, really.

On Flickr, as posted by McDonaldsCorp, a series of photos shows a Mayor McCheese figurine in front of Olympic events and city landmarks. He’s kind of cute. But he’s not cooking healthy grub.

All of this comes in the context of International Olympics President Jacques Rogge publicly questioning whether McDonald’s, and other products that dwell in the same basic neck of the woods, such as Coca-Cola, can actually synch up with the Olympics as sponsors and prove a good fit, saying there was a “question mark” about the prospect.

Later, however, he told the London papers: the Olympics needs the money. And Rogge subsequently backed down about any questions, citing Coke and McDonald’s as bringing “forward the spirit of the Olympic Games through creative and engaging global programs that promote physical activity and the values that the Olympic Games are all about.”

And that’s the way McDonald’s sees it, as the company told the Guardian in July: “Sponsorship is essential to the successful staging of the Olympic and Paralympic Games and we’re proud of our involvement with London 2012”.

Or, as Chef Coudreaut says, in the company’s content, in connection with his work at the Olympics Park kitchen: “As a food company passionate about innovative tastes and balanced eating, we are doing more to cultivate kids’ and parents’ understanding of food preparation and quality ingredients.”>

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