What Will Advertising Look Like for the Tokyo Olympics?

What Will Advertising Look Like for the Tokyo Olympics?

Written by: Stephanie Bariatti, SMB Media Marketing Consultant 


            After a one-year delay, the 2020 Olympic games are scheduled to begin on July 23rd in Tokyo.  However, what was expected to be a triumphant return may now turn into another possible cancellation. 


            With Tokyo currently experiencing a surge in coronavirus cases, the city is under a state of emergency until at least June 20th.  The majority of the Japanese population, in addition to Japanese medical officials, feel it is just not the right time for an event of such magnitude and many are calling for cancellation.  Japan’s most senior medical adviser, Shigeru Omi, said on Wednesday that hosting the Olympics during a pandemic was “not normal,” while media reported thousands of volunteers quitting in advance.  


            Yet, Olympic officials insist that they will barrel ahead.  IOC Vice President, John Coates has said the games will open on July 23 — state of emergency, or no state of emergency.        


            It’s not hard to see why the IOC is so intent on moving forward.  Billions of dollars are at stake.  Andrew Zimbalist, an economist at Smith College in Massachusetts who has written extensively about the Olympics, estimates the IOC could lose about $3.5 billion-$4 billion in broadcast revenue if the Tokyo Games were canceled.  He suggested a small portion of this, between $400 million and $800 million, might be made up by cancellation insurance. Japan itself also has about $15.5 billion on the line.  So, most likely, the Olympics will go ahead as scheduled, perhaps with more COVID restrictions and guidelines than previously anticipated.


            The Olympics, generally a marketing bonanza, is also being met with hesitation from some big sponsors due to the public opposition and a possible spectator ban.  NBCUniversal, which is broadcasting the Tokyo Olympics in the United States, was able to secure around $1.25 billion in advertising commitmentsfor the 2020 Games before the spread of the coronavirus pandemic scuttled the event.  Some advertisers had to walk away from their 2020 deals, while others put a down payment on 2021.  


            Toyota last month acknowledged public "concern" and said it was worried that "some people's frustration is directed towards athletes.  As a sponsor, we are truly distressed by that," said communications director Jun Nagata.  "We are agonising every day about what should be done."  In addition, the Asahi Shimbun newspaper - itself a sponsor of the Games - last week broke ranks to call for a cancellation.


            On the other hand, Procter and Gamble is one of the major sponsors betting big on advertising during the Olympics.  As a “Worldwide Olympic Partner,” the stakes are high, with the entry fee for the sponsorship being estimated at $100 million per Olympics/Paralympics before a single ad is paid for.  Having recently extended its commitment to the Olympics, P&G clearly regards it as a major part of its marketing efforts.   


            Procter & Gamble hopes to inspire, by serving up two short films that give viewers a different take of the athletes competing this year.  In one, mothers of various nationalities instill lessons in young children that eventually help them when they get to the Olympics to compete.  In another, various Olympics and Paralympics competitors are seen doing inspiring things on and off the field.


            P&G’s Japanese cosmetics brand, SK-II will also be promoted, featuring famed gymnast Simone Biles, and the brand will set up a #CHANGEDESTINY fund, contributing $1 for every view garnered on each SK-II STUDIO film in support of women pursuing their destiny to create positive change.  Tide, Pantene, Olay, Venus, Always and Secret will also partner with Team USA athletes to bring their unique Olympic Games brand campaigns to life, partnering with retailers to support Team USA through in-store, TV and digital campaigns.


            Cross-platform, or multi-channel, advertising will be the way to go for the Olympics.  Although consumers have picked up on digital channels more during the pandemic, broadcast TV continues to reign supreme for overall time spent, according to data from GWI.  For Olympics fans, linear TV remains the dominant means of following the Games, with those specifically interested in water sports, like diving and swimming, most likely to be watching live on TV.  Given the event is global and covers so many different time zones, highlights will be an especially important touchpoint, with half of fans planning to catch up on the day’s action on their TV.



            Though questions still remain about exactly how events will be handled, there are still many looking forward to the Olympic spectacle and the goodwill it brings to the world.  As for sponsors, they will have to walk a fine line between recognizing COVID-19, while also communicating the inspirational sports stories that move people.  It is, however, a risk worth taking, especially when backed up by a strong multi-channel strategy.     


Stephanie Bariatti works as a Consultant and Project Manager for SMB Media Consulting.  She has had extensive experience with many facets of advertising and media, having worked for and with creative agencies, production companies and research departments.  She lives in New York with her wonderful husband, three lovable little boys and a snuggly Golden Retriever.