The challenge brands are faced with in Tokyo 2021: Winning vs. Competing

The Olympic spirit of sponsoring brands is tested after the COVID-19 crisis delayed the competition, presenting challenging situations for those still seeking to compete… and win.

Along with the transmission rights for the Super Bowl or the FIFA World Cup, the rights for the Olympic games are some of the most coveted by brands of every kind, from fast foods to watches or luxury cars, from diapers to agricultural machinery. 

Following the COVID-19 pandemic, the resulting restrictions and the consequences that persist across the world, many executives are no longer looking towards Tokyo, but Beijing (the host of the Winter Olympics in 2022) or even Paris (the next summer Olympics)—will the Olympic marketing race end with an empty podium?

Transition Games

The Olympic games are taking place without spectators. The event is also unpopular between Japanese citizens and many public health experts, who fear a super spreader event. Even before the dramatic effects of the pandemic, these games could have been considered transitional ones. The absence of stars such as Michael Phelps or Usain Bolt will mark a big difference between this event and past years. However, the Tokyo Olympics seems like a more appealing option for the new generation of athletes, eager to leave their mark in the event’s history, creating stories that brands could take advantage of.

Of course, Toyota will continue with its influential campaign, as will many global brands like Coca-Cola and Visa. The question is how much of this is merely a commitment and how much will actually see the benefit?

Sports lessons from the pandemic

Channels and specialized platforms that broadcast live sports events were hit the hardest by the restrictions and the aftermath of the pandemic at the beginning. The broadcasters knew their audience was at home, wanting content, but there was a broad prohibition against any competitive sports events. 

Viewer’s behaviors are changing—fans look for short spots of highly engaging content and more interactive experiences. To achieve this, all platforms must cater to this audience using podcasts and social media as well as apps and social messaging.

The Sports industry, during the pandemic, learned a powerful lesson: the solution was to show snippets of past moments in order to meet this specific audience’s needs while keeping the public engaged.

Once the main soccer tournaments were reestablished, many brands emphasized these  moments, encouraging the audience to create content and become engaged with the tournaments and their main characters. Also, campaigns that engage the audience with the content can provide valuable key takewaways for the  future.

Passion but with caution

Brands can benefit from their participation in the Tokyo Olympic Games, but there is one significant factor that makes these events irresistible: passion. It is rare to find another event that stirs the passion and patriotism of the fans. They are willing to immerse themselves every four years in the details of the road these athletes are taking to reach the glory of a medal.

Before the competition, brands were very cautious, but slowly they are waking up. Now, official sponsors are ready to show their campaigns, and other lower-profile brands have been developing campaigns on a smaller scale because there is still a lot of ground to cover before fully recovering from the challenges of 2020. 

Marketing and technology

While expensive campaigns of audiovisual content are mainly reserved for large brands and aimed at traditional media, the rest of the brands are betting on technological flexibility. Sports tech offers provide greater value in terms of engagement, reach, and data that can fuel commercial opportunities. Here are some keywords:

  • Gaming. By creating video games based on Olympics, brands produce content in harmony with the event collecting different data as well as interacting with audiences.
  • Augmented reality. Apps and short content based on augmented reality offer perspectives never seen before on athletes’ performance. These are part of the content outside of regular television transmissions, which can keep audiences connected. 
  • Artificial intelligence. Modules designed to predict or compare the athlete’s performances are just a part of these tools that spread the brand’s reach outside the competitions. 

Winning is a matter of perspective

Sports marketing is not experiencing a prosperous period. According to analysts, future conditions will be even more complicated due to the unknown economic effects of the pandemic. 

However, even if a triumph as big as the ones we have seen before by the big legends of the games isn’t likely, it’s a perfect moment to remember that in the effort of marketing, when there’s a possibility to generate permanent interaction, reach and data, brands are in a position to bring exciting and creative opportunities for future victories.