TOKYO (AP) – Toyota will not broadcast any Olympic-themed commercials on Japanese television during the Tokyo Games, despite being one of the IOC’s main commercial sponsors.
The extraordinary decision by the country’s largest automaker underlines just how polarizing the Games have become in Japan as COVID-19 infections rise ahead of Friday’s opening ceremony.
“There are many issues with these Games that are proving difficult to understand,” Toyota communications director Jun Nagata told reporters on Monday.
Managing Director Akio Toyoda, grandson of the company’s founder, will not attend the opening ceremony. That’s despite about 200 athletes competing in the Olympics and Paralympics who are affiliated with Toyota, including swimmer Takeshi Kawamoto and softball player Miu Goto.
Nagata said the company will continue to support its athletes.
Being a corporate sponsor of the Olympics is usually all about using the games as a platform to improve the brand. But being tied to Games in the pandemic era can be seen by some as a potential marketing problem.
Tokyo 2020 spokesperson Masa Takaya said the sponsors each make their own decisions about their messages.
“There is mixed public sentiment towards the Games,” Takaya said.
“I must underline that these partners and companies have given a great support to Tokyo 2020. They are passionate about the realization of these Games. “
The company has no plans to adjust its Olympic marketing plans in the United States
“Toyota’s global Olympic and Paralympic advertising campaign media plan is managed by countries and regions. In Japan, the local Toyota office previously decided not to broadcast the campaign out of sensitivity to the COVID-19 situation in that country, ”Toyota Motor North America said in a statement. “In the United States, the campaign has already aired nationally and will continue to air as planned with our media partners during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games.”
Toyota Motor Corp. signed up as a global Olympic sponsor in 2015, under an 8-year contract valued at nearly $ 1 billion, becoming the first automaker to join the premier marketing program IOC plan.
Sponsorship, which began globally in 2017, continues until the 2024 Olympics, covering three consecutive Olympics in Asia, including the Tokyo Games.
The Tokyo Olympics, already delayed by a year, continue despite the state of emergency in the Japanese capital.
It’s practically an Olympics made for television already, with most events, including the Opening Ceremony, happening without fans at 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 luxury Prius Hybrid and Lexus models takes pride in its quality controls, with its ultra-efficient “just-in-time” production methods praised and emulated around the world.
Opinion polls reflect widespread concern among Japanese people over tens of thousands of Olympic participants entering the country during a pandemic. Some have already tested positive for COVID.
Motoyuki Niitsuma, a worker at a manufacturing plant who banged on a bucket during a recent Tokyo protest against the Olympics, said he didn’t like the idea of cheering on the national team, and the pandemic made this message clear.
“The time for competition is over. Now is the time to cooperate, ”he said. “We should never have had the Games.”
AP videographer Johnson Lai contributed to this report.
Yuri Kageyama is on Twitter https://twitter.com/yurikageyama
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