Why is McDonald’s Sponsoring SXSW and the World’s Fair?


At two of the world’s largest festivals this summer, you’ll see some familiar golden arches.

McDonald’s wants to be relevant again. The fast food giant has secured itself as a major event sponsor at both South by Southwest, aka SXSW — the music and creative tech festival, one of the largest of its kind in America — and the upcoming World’s Fair, which will be held in Milan (the theme of the Milan Expo, incidentally, is food).

McDonald’s will offer samples of its McCafe coffee and “music-based experiences” at the McDonald’s Lounge on site at SXSW. More importantly, McDonald’s really wants your opinions, and will host three “pitch sessions.” You, as a festival attendee and an influential millennial, have the opportunity to help the fast food giant with “re-inventing the restaurant experience” (equipping McD’s locations with more technology), “content creation” (effective tweeting), and “transportation and delivery” (more drones, please).

“We want to be in the flow of ideas, offering our scale to interesting partners, with the intent to make the lives of millions of people who use McDonald’s a bit simpler and even more enjoyable,” McDonald’s chief digital officer, Atif Rafiq, said in a blog post on SXSW’s website.

Perhaps even more baffling is McDonald’s presence at the Milan Expo, where efforts to solve problems of world hunger and share the world’s cuisines will take center stage. According to Slow Food, McDonald’s will have their own 1300-square-foot restaurant and a project, called “Making the Future,” that highlights young Italian farmers as possible future McSuppliers.

“The contradiction is jarring. And it hurts. Expo 2015 has given itself an ambitious task if ever there was one: to address the pivotal topic of how to nourish the planet in the future,” Slow Food writes in a blog post. “From this point of view, the presence of McDonald’s seems more like a clamorous self-imposed goal rather than their claim of the right to freely compare different theories, which Expo would like to promise.”


Between faltering sales and an ousted CEO, McDonald’s is having one of its worst years in recent memory. The fast food company has been focusing on re-building its brand image with heartwarming commercials and behind the scenes “no, that’s not pink slime” videos. Both the SXSW and Milan Expo sponsorships are further examples of McDonald’s attempted worldwide comeback.