Toyota has pulled all of its Olympic-themed advertisements from Japanese television during the 2020 Games, four days before the opening ceremony.
Despite the company being one of the top corporate sponsors for the Olympics with about 200 athletes participating in the Olympics and Paralympics, its decision to back away from advertising during the Games speaks to the conflicted feelings that the public has about the 2020 Olympics amid a rise in COVID-19 infections.
“There are many issues with these Games that are proving difficult to be understood,” Toyota Chief Communications Officer Jun Nagata told reporters.
Chief Executive Akio Toyoda, the grandson of the company’s founder, will not be attending the opening ceremony, but Nagata said the athletes participating will continue to have the company’s support.
For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.
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.
Masa Takaya, a Tokyo 2020 spokesperson, said sponsors each make its 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.
It’s already virtually a made-for-TV 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.
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.
Public opinion surveys reflect widespread concern among Japanese people about having tens of thousands of Olympic participants enter the country during a pandemic. Some already have tested positive for COVID.
Motoyuki Niitsuma, a manufacturing plant worker who was banging on a bucket in a recent Tokyo protest against the Olympics, said he didn’t like the idea of cheering for the national team, and the pandemic has made that message clear.
“The time to compete is over. Now is the time to cooperate,” he said. “We should never have gotten the Games.”