The Tokyo Games Present New Challenges For Advertisers

The 2020 Summer Olympics, beginning Friday in Tokyo, Japan, will likely go down in history as one of the most controversial and challenging Olympic Games in history. Postponed a year by the COVID-19 pandemic—the international competition and the associated Paralympics Games are keeping “Tokyo 2020” in the title—the games still face spiking infection rates in Japan and abroad, severe local criticism and restrictions that will see the spectacle largely devoid of in-person spectators. The Games’ difficulties are also presenting challenges to the brands being marketed around the event.

An Olympics fixture, besides the sports and athletes, are the millions of products emblazoned with the Olympic rings and sponsor logos. Fans at home will have plenty of opportunities to kit themselves out with products carrying the Olympics brand—Team USA counts two promotional products distributors, Bensussen Deutsch & Associates and Staples Promotional Products, as premium licensees—but in Japan, sporting goods manufacturers and other businesses are toning down their expectations.

Japan Today reports that sportswear-maker and major Olympics sponsor Asics Corp is pulling back from prominent showcases of Olympics-themed merchandise in its stores, and instead displaying them near the back. And despite being one of the International Olympics Committee’s biggest corporate sponsors, Toyota Motor Company has pulled all of its Olympics-related advertising in Japan, citing how polarizing the Games are in the country. Toyota Chief Communications Officer Jun Nagata says, “There are many issues with these Games that are proving difficult to be understood.”

Despite its challenges, the Olympics are still expected to be lucrative for advertisers globally. In the U.S., NBC expects to exceed the $1.2 billion in ad sales it earned during the Rio 2016 Games. So far, no advertisers have reported to have pulled out due to the spectator ban in Japan. Ad Age notes that some have questioned how the lack of an audience may come across on TV, but advertisers gained some experience dealing with quiet stands when fan-free sporting events came to TV in 2020, and can take extra steps to engage audiences.

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