Japanese sponsors fear brand damage from Tokyo Olympics

Corporate sponsors of the Tokyo Olympics have brought in marketing consultants to determine whether a direct association with the Games would damage their brands. 

According to people working directly with some of the 47 big sponsors of the Games, Japanese companies have asked advisers whether they should embrace the Olympic imagery. The alternative is to proceed with minimal reference to an event that has generated more than $3bn in sponsorship after polls suggested that more than half of the Japanese public thinks the Games should be called off. 

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The consultants, which people close to several sponsors said included Kantar, Macromill and Intage, have been brought in as companies approach the six-week countdown to the opening ceremony.

That mark, said one advertising executive involved in preparations for the Games, represented a “point of no return” beyond which companies will incur a cost for cancelling advertising campaigns.

A person close to the Japan Advertisers’ Association, which has 272 member companies, acknowledged that Olympic sponsors were finding it difficult to achieve the marketing benefits they had initially anticipated.

“Companies had hoped to raise their brand value by sponsoring a major global sporting event, but it’s becoming difficult to actively promote the fact that they are sponsoring the Tokyo Olympics,” the person added. 

A person working as an adviser to one of the 14 global sponsors said that, because the decision on whether or not to embrace the Olympics was so finely balanced, some companies had developed two campaigns and would decide which to use at the last minute.

“They are waiting to see if the opposition to the Games begins to fall, because if it doesn’t, they are concerned that these Games could actually hurt their brands,” said one advertising executive working with an Olympic sponsor.

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“Meanwhile, most of the campaigns have gone full stop when you would expect them to be ramping up.”

Among gold partner sponsors, sportswear company Asics and dairy and soft drinks group Meiji Holdings have recently run television adverts featuring athletes expected to compete at the Olympics.

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In the case of the Asics advert, the Olympic rings appeared only briefly in a corner at the end of the commercial. 

Meiji said it was investigating the impact of Olympic sponsorship on its brand, but that its existing advertisements were not based on the findings of that research.

Another sponsor, which declined to be named, said it had yet to decide whether to run Olympic-themed ads but that it was closely monitoring public opinion.

Asics did not respond to a request for comment.

At least one sponsor that produces consumer goods has been advised that there was little benefit from any campaign that attempted to play heavily on Olympic associations.

One veteran advertising industry executive involved with several sponsor companies said that the two main considerations would be the decision on whether spectators will be allowed, which is expected around June 24, and private polling on the level of public opposition to the Games.

As Japan’s vaccination programme has gathered pace, opinion surveys in domestic media have shown opposition to holding the Games on July 24 falling from about 80 per cent a month ago to 62 per cent in a recent poll.

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