Going for gold - the Olympic dream lives on

As one of the most unusual and problematic Olympic Games gets set to start in Tokyo, communicators and marketers are tweaking their normal playbook to take advantage of what is still a unique branding opportunity.

The Tokyo Olympics are playing out in front of empty stadiums due to a ban on spectators. (Pic: Getty Images.)
The Tokyo Olympics are playing out in front of empty stadiums due to a ban on spectators. (Pic: Getty Images.)

There’s nothing quite like the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games.

Thousands of athletes from hundreds of countries enter the host city stadium and parade behind their national flag, from tiny entities such as Nauru, Tuvalu and the Solomon Islands to behemoths including the U.S., Russia and China.

Global sporting superstars such as tennis players Novak Djokovic and Naomi Osaka mingle with humble athletes achieving a once-in-a-lifetime goal they’ve chased for decades. All of them, whatever their status, get to enjoy the Olympic dream and revel in the atmosphere of a unique event.

Clearly the delayed 2020 Tokyo Games, which are already underway but kick off formally on Friday, are very different to their predecessors.

They will play out without spectators in a country under a state of emergency where the people are less than enthusiastic about the prospect of thousands of foreigners landing on their shores and potentially spreading the coronavirus they have so far managed to primarily avoid.

Then there are the financial implications for the host city that won’t be able to recoup its estimated $28 billion investment in terms of tourism, ticket revenue and in-person sponsorship opportunities.

Former WPP CEO Martin Sorrell was famous for talking about the quadrennial effect of the Olympics on marketing and advertising, an effect multiplied in years when there was also a U.S. general election, which was the original scenario if the games had gone ahead last year as planned. Sorrell dubbed those years “multi-quadrennial.”

Like many pieces of received wisdom about social behavior and media consumption, those observations aren’t as strong as they used to be. But the Olympics still represent a fantastic opportunity for U.S. and global brands to align themselves with the event’s previously described magic.

While Japanese brands including Toyota and Panasonic are playing it safe by keeping a low profile in their home country, they will be much more visible in the crucial U.S. market.

NBC’s massive investment in media rights for the Olympics still seems to be paying off, with the Comcast-owned broadcaster apparently selling out its advertising slots and going all in on live streaming and other activations.

Olympics sponsors can’t do the in-person experiential and corporate entertaining activities they normally would, but are coming up with innovative ways to purposefully align themselves with the games.

German financial services provider Allianz focused on the mental health of athletes while they were training by teaming up with canine nonprofits Love on 4 Paws and Little Angels to create the Allianz Support Dog Squad.

Visa, another official Olympic sponsor, is debuting its Meet Visa global brand refresh during the opening ceremony in Tokyo, with additional spots running on digital and out of home.

U.S. brands are also doubling down. From Procter & Gamble’s Lead With Love activation and its innovative SK-II skincare brand content piece, to United Airlines’ It’s Time to Let Yourself Fly spot, to Chipotle, which is celebrating American athletes by bringing back its gold foil burrito wrappers.

Brisbane was awarded the 2032 Olympic Games yesterday almost by default, as the Australian city was the only bidder for an investment that is now seen as more of a burden than an opportunity to highlight your city and country to the world.

The competition will be much stronger on the track, swimming pool, gymnastics arena and other venues in Tokyo, and compelling storylines will emerge as always as the world is captivated by the unique glow of the Olympic dream.

Despite the travails of getting this particular games to the starting blocks and many reputational difficulties surrounding it, it is still a unique platform for marketers and communicators to align themselves with and benefit from.

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