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Experience at Tokyo 2020: Part Two

Image source: Andrew Bell

From Tokyo, XMC Sr. Manager, Andrew Bell brings us insights to Toyota’s involvement as IOC Top Sponsor and recent challenges around public support for the Games in Japan.

In 2015 Toyota became both the first automotive company to join at Top Sponsor level and the first ever “Official Mobility Partner” of the IOC, spending close to $1B for global rights over 8 years (across 4 Olympic Games, Winter and Summer).

Even in the face of a “normal” Olympic presentation, Toyota had its work cut out, tasked with ensuring everyone involved in the delivery of the Games can get to where they need to be, safely and comfortably.

For Tokyo 2020, Toyota’s plan was to highlight its position as a leader in Hybrid and Electric Vehicles and showcase products including the Toyota Mirai, a hydrogen-powered, eco-friendly vehicle, in line with the Olympic theme of sustainability and helping to deliver the Games using more alternative fuels and power sources, than ever before.

However, unable to avoid the effect of a COVID pandemic when it comes to domestic messaging plans, the vehicle manufacturer was forced to take a surprising turn. On July 19th, just 4 days before the Opening Ceremony, Toyota made the decision to ditch all Japanese TV advertising related to the Games, scrapping years of work in the process.

In doing so, Toyota added to its list of firsts, becoming the first IOC Top Sponsor to actively distance itself from the event as it hosted in its own home Nation, joining several other national-level sponsors, such as food company Ajinomoto, who had also pulled the plug on TV advertising through July and August.

At the same time, it was confirmed that Toyota President, Akio Toyoda, would not be in-attendance at the Opening Ceremony, making the decision alongside executives from other sponsor companies offered the chance to attend both the opening and closing ceremonies but who remained concerned about the optics of doing so.

Whether or not the data supports the media and public narrative or if social media is really a suitable gauge for assessing public opinion and support, Toyota made a decision based on reports that indicate a majority negative position on these platforms and the polls indicating opposition to the Games from the Japanese public. Toyota has viewed these negative reports, as seen in the past month, as clear indication that its advertising would do more harm than good to the manufacturer’s reputation.


In its continued fulfillment and physical activation at the 2020 Games, Toyota has delivered a massive fleet of vehicles to venues across the country. More than 3,340 vehicles split across fuel, hybrid and 100% electric models, can be seen (and sometimes not heard) escorting dignitaries, leading cycling road races or, in the case of the extremely cool Toyota Electric scooters, helping volunteers zip around the periphery of the massive venues.

One of the most popular mobility vehicles activated by Toyota within these Games are the fleet of autonomous electric buses, moving athletes and staff around the Olympic Village. Toyota has successfully positioned itself in offering a sharable social item that proves autonomous electric transportation is possible, albeit in a controlled environment and containing human attendants for security and manual override should it be required.

Toyota’s presence at these games is still unmissable. Despite the cancellation of domestic TV advertising, the connection between Toyota and the Games remains clearly defined outside of the Olympic bubbles and across the city, as the company maintains connections to several athletes competing across various events. Toyota.JP has continued to highlight its support and produced content on its website, as well as posting ongoing content through its social channels with a string of games imagery, athlete interviews and results updates and performance reports.

Toyota’s position as official transport partner is also highlighted across vehicle decals, wrapping thousands of the City’s public “black-cab” taxis, reminding residents of Toyota's support for the massive investments made to infrastructure, transportation and local businesses.


About the Author: Andrew Bell is XMC’s Sr. Manager, Brand Strategy and has been connected to the Olympic movement for more than a decade. As a marketing strategist, photographer and former international athlete, he is uniquely positioned to report back from Tokyo 2020, offering insight into brand and sponsor activities within a truly unique edition of the Olympic Games.

About XMC: Founded in 2006, the XMC Group of Companies and its dynamic team of industry professionals provide strategic counsel, negotiation, execution, data analytics and measurement of sponsorship and Experiential Marketing™ programs and services. By leveraging a shared passion for sport, music, culture and cause, XMC connects with consumers, creates deep engagement, and inspires target action. With over $1.5B in deals negotiated, activated and/or valuated, XMC delivers client success by taking ownership, inspiring confidence, and exceeding expectations.



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