Benjamin Franklin famously said that “There is nothing certain in life apart from death and taxes”. If he was alive in recent times then he could easily have added successful brand sponsorship of the Olympics to his list!
The power of the one of the world’s biggest sporting events, beaten into second spot only by the football World Cup, has been attractive to brands looking to reach out to a truly global audience and seen a multitude of successful campaigns over the years, albeit by paying top dollar to associate with the ‘Greatest Show on Earth’.
When Toyota signed on the dotted line back in 2015 for an eight year deal costing an estimated US$1 billion they must have felt the world was at their feet with the Rio Olympics being followed by the cherished home Olympics in Tokyo 2020. New Toyota models, including driverless cars, and robots serving food and drink were going to put the Japanese automotive brand at the centre of a global audience. To be associated with a home Olympics is the ultimate in sporting sponsorships but they could not have thought for one minute of how the last couple of years have panned out with the global Covid-19 pandemic.
Turn to 2021 and according to research the Japanese public are well and truly over the Olympics before it has even begun. One report suggests 83% of Japanese want the Games cancelled!
Perhaps public reception will change when the competition begins but they have well and truly made themselves heard. This week, just a few days from the opening ceremony, Toyota made an announcement that they would be stepping back from their association by pulling their Olympic themed ads and declining to attend the opening ceremony. (But they will continue to support their 200+ brand ambassadors.)
Imagine the meetings to get to this decision! But, Toyota must be applauded for making a bold decision, it would have been very easy to stick to Plan A with head in the sand and carry on regardless. Toyota has shown sensitivity in the face of overriding public opinion against the Games and proved beyond doubt that it is listening to its audience, something that not all brands always do.
It will be interesting to see how the Games goes with Covid-19 cases already confirmed amongst the athletes and fans banned from spectating. Only time will tell how Toyota’s decision will impact their business, but my gut reaction is that stepping back is a bold move that will ultimately be remembered positively by the Japanese car buying public.