The Olympic years are years of goods for the advertising market. It is not a popular saying, but surely if you turn it around and find a rhyme it could curdle. Every time the Olympics are held, the advertising budgets grow, because the event continues to attract massive audiences and companies are still interested in positioning themselves using them as a claim. In fact, the accounts of the analysis firms on how 2020 was going to be pointed to a growth in global advertising investment. The Tokyo Olympics were a very important part of that climb.
But all this was, of course, before the outbreak of the coronavirus crisis. The pandemic turned upside down plans, forecasts and, especially, the calendar of large macro-events that gather massive audiences. If the spread of a pandemic is to be limited, the number of people who congregate in one place must be reduced.
Whether or not the Olympics went ahead last summer was one of the great soap operas of the year, before the organization assumed that plans could not continue and that the games had to go to the summer of 2021.
For the ad spend, that was bad news. For many brands it meant redoing their forecasts and action plans in sports marketing for the year. Even so, the decision was logical and, then, it was taken for granted that in the summer of 2021 normality would have returned and the Olympic Games could unfold in all its grandeur.
However, at the height of the spring of this year, the reality of the games does not seem so bright. It is rather clear that normality will not have returned by the end of July – beginning of August, when the Olympics are scheduled to take place. The organizers themselves have just confirmed that the competitions will take place without an audience and that Japan will not allow the visit of Olympic tourists.
What it means in marketing and advertising
These decisions impact the scope of the Olympic Games and what they imply in the marketing and advertising strategy. Of course, the biggest hit will be taken by local brands and Japan / Tokyo as a country / city brand. For the host country, the games are an opportunity to make themselves known, create a wave of positive branding and monetize the high investment made (the example of what happened with Barcelona is a perfect example of this). There is little they can do from Japan in that regard.
Although they will be the main victims, the plans that remain for the Olympics also have implications for brands. Despite the fact that, as they recall in AdWeek, the firm decision of the organizers about the public has given clarity to their plans, the brands still have to assume how things will change with this new context.
They must consider whether the event continues to have the value it traditionally had in marketing and advertising now that it will simply be televised. In other words, it has become another great element made for television, but that loses the emotions of the experiences, of what has been lived.
From eMarketer they point out, even so, that it is unlikely that the audiences will fall for that reason and that the interest of the spectators will cool. For most viewers, in the end, the experience of the Olympic Games was, directly, to sit in front of a screen and see what happened. That there are no live audiences creating heat could make the experience colder and connect less with it (it is something that happened to the great sports competitions that returned in the middle of the pandemic).
For some sectors that tend to use the Olympic Games as an advertising lever, the question is no longer, they remember, in the audiences, but rather in that they lose the opportunity or the positioning window in an experience without travelers: it is what happens to the companies of industries connected to tourism.
And while support for the Olympics is often done with a long-term strategy and requires much longer commitments, this new state of affairs could also cause advertisers and marketers to change. In their sports marketing strategy, they could shift to prioritizing sports like Formula 1 instead of spending so much Olympic spending.