Toyota, one of the biggest sponsors of the Olympics, is removing all of its Games-related advertising from Japanese television, the latest major company to struggle with messaging the Summer Olympics during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Tokyo-based carmaker decided not to air its Olympics campaign in Japan “out of sensitivity to the COVID-19 situation,” the company said in a statement.
“In the U.S., the campaign has already been shown nationally and will continue to be shown as planned with our media partners during the Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020,” the statement said.
Toyota is one the 15 companies in the top-tier of International Olympic Committee sponsorship—known as the TOP Program. While individual national teams and host committees have their own partners, the TOP Program represents the most expensive sponsorships. In the four-year cycle from 2013-2016, the IOC brought in $1.03 billion from those marketing rights, a number that will be larger in the run-up to the Tokyo Games.
That said, the COVID-19 pandemic has made these Summer Games difficult for sponsors. The one-year delay ruined plans for many, as did the decision to hold the event without fans following a state of emergency in Tokyo. The issue is particularly sensitive in Japan, where medical experts have suggested the Games not be held, and the Japanese public remains opposed to holding the event while vaccination rates remain below 25%.
Olympics sponsors typically use the Games to build ad campaigns around optimism and inspiration, and those campaigns are conceived and created months or years before the global event begins.
Toyota isn’t the only Olympics partner dealing with this balance. Mentions of the Games by sponsors are down 40% in the first half of 2021 as opposed to 2019 and 2020, according to GlobalData, which scanned corporate filings over the past few years.