Top sponsor Toyota pulls Olympics-related TV ads as coronavirus cloud over Games grows
In an extraordinary decision, Toyota won’t be airing any Olympic-themed advertisements on Japanese television during the Tokyo Games despite being one of the International Olympic Committee’s top corporate sponsors.
The decision by Japan’s top automaker underlines how polarizing the Summer Games have become in the country as coronavirus infections rise ahead of Friday’s opening ceremony.
“There are many issues with these Games that are proving difficult to be understood,” Toyota chief spokesman Jun Nagata told reporters Monday.
Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda, the company founder’s grandson, will be skipping the Olympics opening ceremony. That’s despite the fact that about 200 athletes taking part in the Olympics and Paralympics are affiliated with Toyota, including swimmer Takeshi Kawamoto and softball player Miu Goto.
Nagata said the company would continue to support its athletes.
Being a corporate sponsor for the Olympics is usually all about using the Games as a platform to enhance the brand. But being linked with a pandemic-era Games may be viewed by some as a potential marketing problem.
Two South African soccer players have become the first athletes inside the Olympic Village to test positive for the coronavirus.
Public opinion surveys reflect widespread concern among Japanese people about having tens of thousands of Olympic participants enter the country during a pandemic.
Masa Takaya, a Tokyo 2020 spokesperson, said sponsors make their own decisions on their messages.
“There is a mixed public sentiment towards the Games,” Takaya said.
“I need to emphasize that those partners and companies have been very supportive to Tokyo 2020. They are passionate about making these Games happen.”
Toyota Motor Corp. signed on as a worldwide Olympic sponsor in 2015, in an eight-year deal reportedly worth nearly $1 billion, becoming the first car company to join the IOC’s top-tier marketing program.
The sponsorship, which started globally in 2017, runs through the 2024 Olympics, covering three consecutive Olympics in Asia, including the Tokyo Games.
The Tokyo Olympics, already delayed by a year, are going ahead despite the Japanese capital being under a state of emergency because of COVID-19.
It’s already virtually a TV-only Olympics, with most events, including the opening ceremony, going ahead without fans in the venues. Some dignitaries, such as IOC President Thomas Bach and Emperor Naruhito, are likely to attend.
Despite calls to cancel the Tokyo Olympics due to coronavirus cases, the city is opening its borders to tens of thousands of people because it’s too expensive to halt the Games.
Toyota is one of the most trusted brands in Japan. The maker of the Prius hybrid and Lexus luxury models prides itself on its quality controls, with its “just in time” super-efficient production methods praised and emulated around the world.
Motoyuki Niitsuma, a factory worker who was banging on a bucket in a recent Tokyo protest against the Olympics, said that he didn’t like the idea of cheering for the national team and that the pandemic only amplified that feeling.
“The time to compete is over. Now is the time to cooperate,” he said. “We should never have gotten the Games.”
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