Dear Olympic sponsors, do not worry

Mutant’s senior manager has a few tips for brand sponsors to make the most of this year’s unusual Tokyo Olympics.


Just saying those two words today can trigger half of the global population. Waves of protests and pleas for the Olympics to be cancelled can be seen on the news daily. I mean, The Olympics’ very own media partner, The Asahi Shimbun, is calling for its postponement. That doesn’t bode well for the International Olympic Committee (IOC). Yet despite the gale, it seems like the Olympic flame won’t go out this time.

Between you and me, here’s a confession: I was a little jaded reading about the aggressive stances from athletes, governments, media, sporting associations, healthcare professionals and even the fans. It all felt like watching a game of table tennis that had gone on for too long. Then came an article that made my eyes perk up. Through a Reuters feed that promised the article would be a five minute read, the headline read, ‘As unpredictable Games looms, Japan’s sponsors struggle to adapt’.

Finally, I would receive some insight into the perspective of the corporations that have invested over US$3 billion to sponsor the Tokyo Olympics. I thought to myself: Surely they must be the most vocal supporters of the Olympics and will want the games to carry on. Right? 

I was wrong.

The article painted a picture of anxious and confused sponsors that were unsure of earning a satisfactory return on investment with an audience of zero attending the Olympics. Asahi Breweries were wondering who’s going to drink all the beer. Toyota Motor Corp felt like they’d lost their ‘grand moment for electric cars’. JTB Corp is refunding tour packages. The list goes on.

Were these brands really just relying on physical sponsorships? The pandemic was declared more than a year ago – didn’t these brands think of digital alternatives? Isn’t ‘please have a digital extension’ part of every brief these days? Are people going to think the media partner and the beer partner are the same company? 

For worried brands, it’s not too late. Here are some ways to still achieve a bang for your marketing buck: 

Animated overlays

I remember watching a swimming race years ago, and wondering how on earth they had the swimmer’s flag and name on the lane at the start of the race. Did they use some kind of physical lane cover? I was mindblown when the results appeared almost immediately as an overlay upon the podium finishers touching the wall.

Using this same idea, advertisers and sponsors could harness the wonderful world of AR filters and animated overlays to ‘transport’ data onto screens. For example, the Japan Tourism Board could use the broadcast to highlight the best spots for people to visit in Tokyo by displaying a QR code that viewers around the globe can scan, receive more information about the venue and bookmark it for later, when travel is possible.

Home extensions

The food and beverage industry will probably be affected the most if physical attendance is limited, if it’s allowed at all.  However, if the product is available in many other countries, F&B brands could create engaging mini-games for audiences.

It could be something like this: in an activation called ‘Spot the beer to win exciting prizes!’ fans watch some of the games with the product  placed somewhere in the venue. Those who spot it have to take a screenshot, upload it onto social media, and tag the brand or use a hashtag. In return, they enter to win an exciting prize, such as a hamper. While it seems like a simple tactic, it could have a massive impact for a global audience, and could add a bit of spice to competitions like diving, where the action lasts for all of three seconds. 

What about photography sponsors, you ask? The company could create a fun Instagram filter for people to use when watching the games. All they’d need to do is open their phone, snap a photo of the screen, apply the filter, and voilà! The filter would transform the photo into a beautiful, high-quality still that makes it seem like the person is watching the Olympics live.

Alternative content

Ever watched Netflix’s Terrace House, where young people are forced to live in one house so that unscripted reality TV drama can unfold? The real drama for me always came from the commentators who provide unfiltered quips about each scene. That sort of humour can be brought to life through content your brand creates around the Olympics.

 All you need is a social media page. Are you a hot sauce sponsor? Maybe you could create ‘Best scream of the day’ videos, where you get your followers to eat your hot sauce, recreate that scream, and post it on their preferred social media platform.

If you are an energy bar or drink sponsor, you could post a daily video where comedians masquerading as pundits comment solely on the energy levels of athletes that day. I can’t promise it will go viral, but don’t knock it until you try it.

I could go on, but statistics show that articles that go on for too long have higher drop-off rates. So, to all the panicking Olympic sponsors: if the games do proceed as planned, fret not because the digital world has lots to offer.

Abraham Christopher is senior manager at Mutant 

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