Brand fade: Is McDonalds losing its shine for Gen Z?

brand fade, brand sponsorship

While taking my 11-year-old son to Little Athletics, I noticed how a once strong brand is losing its relevance.

When trying to give out the award for athlete of the day, I struggled several times to get any of kids to accept it. The reason – it was sponsored by McDonald’s. And the negatively was not just based on the opinion of the parents. Most of the children proudly stated, “I don’t go to McDonald’s – I don’t want it”.

This lead me to question, is McDonald losing the next generation?

brand sponsorship, brand agency

The Little Athletics award was for a free snack wrap – one of the healthier options on the McDonald’s menu. However, the perception from the parents and even some of the children is McDonald’s doesn’t provide healthy or even good quality food.

This is obviously something McDonald’s has been trying to address. They have evolved their menu to provide healthier options such as salads. They have also been one of the leaders in their category to provide nutritional information on their food. But this doesn’t seem to be swaying some.

With growing community concerns about obesity, regardless of what McDonald’s does or says, the brand has tarnished its reputation over many decades. The burgers, fries and fizzy drinks are still their main fodder and dominate the brand’s unhealthy brand perception.

McDonald’s claim their sponsorship of Little Athletics is part of their commitment to “improve the health and well being of Australian children”. It is clear that some parents feel this is not exactly a genuine brand gesture.

On probing a little, several parents told me that they resent McDonald’s sponsoring children’s sport and Little Athletics. Not only do they not like the food, they are active brand rejecters. And they are not alone. There are several online petitions online with thousands of supporters trying to get Little Athletics to cancel McDonald’s sponsorship.

“Little Athletics promotes active lifestyle and McDonald’s goes against everything it represents. There are so many other better sponsors out there,” says Danielle O’Brien, founder of one of the petitions on

While this perception might not be widespread, it would be a worrying trend for McDonald’s if children reach their tweens and then start moving away from the brand – especially if they are actively participating in sport.

Just a few years ago, I wrote about my son’s obsession with the McDonald’s brand. How times have changed. He actually ended up with the award but I don’t think he has even claimed his wrap. He is also no longer excited by the golden arches.

The problem for McDonald’s is that the brand may be damaged beyond repair. They may have lost a good chunk of the next generation for good.

Michael Hughes
Managing Partner, Strategy

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