Tokyo 2020 and Olympic Brand Innovation
Tom Wilson
30 July 2021

Tokyo 2020: A guide to navigating marketing opportunities and challenges of the first pandemic Games

The Games have begun

The Olympic Games are the largest sporting event in the world, watched by a global audience of billions. Tokyo 2020 takes place in troubled times, and a year behind schedule, but acts as a masterclass in technical innovation and a case study for brand resilience. OMD client brands have led with innovation and original thinking.

The Opening ceremony is typically the most viewed single event of the Games and provides a major spectacle to frame world-class sporting achievement. As the ‘pandemic Games’, the ceremony was muted and respectful. Perhaps due to the difficult setting or due to time zones, Tokyo has drawn mixed viewing figures for its launch across global markets (not yet fully consolidated).

  • US – 17m viewers, a 33-year low and well below the 40.7m that tuned into London 2012. Opening weekend ratings were down between 32% and 46% vs Rio 2016
  • Despite the lower viewing figures, NBC expects to exceed a record USD 1.25bn in ad sales
  • As reported last week, streaming is increasingly important -NBC reports a streaming record average 746,000 viewers on Monday 26th July
  • In Japan- a 10 year high for host nation Japan, despite the New York Times stating that public support for this year’s games was low
  • UK – 1.8m live on TV – this figure will increase as consolidated viewing is included. For context, Rio attracted 8.1m in 2016 and London 24.3m in 2012.

Agile Response

Organising committees and brands have had to innovate and adapt, to mitigate safety protocols and the impact of a spectator-free event. Despite the pandemic, and risks associated with a Games that could struggle to replicate the buzz of a live crowd, brands have continued to invest heavily in Tokyo.

In Japan, the games have proven to be controversial and many local sponsors have toned down activity.

Digital Transformation

The pandemic has led the International Olympics Committee (IOC) to accelerate a range of digital transformation initiatives, driving connections between athletes and fans, as well as the development of the Olympics Channel into a digital content hub.

To generate interest within the eSport community, a pre-Games virtual event series was launched, paving the way for an increasingly digital Olympic experience.

US broadcaster, Discovery, acquired broadcasting rights across Europe for 4 games, 2018-2024, for $920m, meaning many domestic TV stations are delivering far less coverage than its viewers are used to, as reported by iNews. Many key events are now behind a paywall, meaning TV viewers may have to pay to view content.

OMD clients leading Olympic activation

The Olympic Games is a rare event in that it offers brands a chance to tap into a genuinely global moment. OMD has been helping clients tap into this opportunity in a number of core markets.

Google – Worldwide
Google has embraced the spirit of the Tokyo Olympics and created the Doodle Champion Island Games. Seven mini-games will appear as the Google logo, helping to spread the spirit of the competition to internet surfers everywhere.

AAMI – Australia
Insurance provider, AAMI, is focusing on Olympic events like the torch-lighting ceremony, hammer throw and rhythmic gymnastics, to highlight how they cover customers in the ‘Everyday Arena’.

Snapchat – USA
NBC in the US has partnered with Snapchat to create a slate of five original content pieces, as well as augmented reality lenses, to bring Olympic fans closer to the action. This is really helping to reduce the impact of COVID-19 restricted events and create a passionate global audience.

McDonald’s – Australia
McDonald’s has twinned its 50th birthday celebrations in Australia with long-time sports commentator, Bruce McAvaney. Bruce looks back
over the past 50 years and shares his favourite Olympic moments. This highlights the longevity and depth of the Olympic movement, as well as how McDonald’s have kept Australians fed for half a century.

Key learnings from Tokyo so far

The Olympics is a unique moment for global brands to establish national credentials and halo goodwill across a worldwide audience. The crowds, the backdrops, the scenes of celebrating fans –all of it is required to create a phenomenal Games (and base for brand building).

Tokyo 2020 has had to adapt due to the pandemic, through major digital investment and a focus on virtual engagement.

This acceleration of digital capability offers new opportunities for partners, for example Alibaba (parent company of AliExpress). It is the official sponsor of Tokyo’s cloud infrastructure, cloud services, ticketing and e-commerce platforms.

The future of Olympic partnerships

Due to increasing costs, the IOC has awarded the Summer Games well in advance of the official launch dates. Paris 2024, Los Angeles 2028 and Brisbane 2032 are already scheduled, with French brand, Sanofi, signed as a top-tier sponsor for the next Games. Paris 2024 shows how much appetite there is for sponsorship of the event, as two-thirds of sponsorship revenue will be secured by the end of 2021, which is well ahead of the opening ceremony.

Innovations driven by the pandemic, especially in terms of virtual engagement and digital access, are only likely to accelerate –as are the battles for future broadcast and streaming rights.

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