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Volume 22 No. 35
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Clutter creates concerns for Olympic partners

Tokyo 2020 sponsors must face facts: If they have an idea for how to activate their rights, odds are good that another sponsor has that idea, too.

With 77 companies having the right to officially associate with the Games — not to mention a thriving city full of possible ambush brands — it’s the most crowded space in Olympic history. That goes for ideas, restaurant seats, tickets to the Games, spots on coach buses and billboards. Marketers will be forced to think and spend aggressively to break through, experts said.

Even internally it will be challenging to please everybody, said Shunsu Sonoda, Panasonic’s head of global sponsorship and event marketing. Panasonic expects more than 2,500 hospitality guests, and everybody wants more tickets than he can provide.

“Demand is extremely high,” Sonoda said. “Our clients want to watch the Games. And our sales people, every single sales division, they have an important client. I have to decide.”

To underscore the scope of the sponsorship rush: Tokyo 2020’s marketing division counts 225 employees, with 80 in partner services alone. That will grow, said managing director Masahiko Sakamaki.

The risk of clutter may be less than it appears because it’s not necessarily clear that all 77 sponsors will do much beyond insert Olympic branding into their usual campaigns.

“I’m not convinced that all these sponsors will activate at a level when you actually feel, ‘Oh my God, there’s 70-some sponsors out here,’” said Aykan Azar, Octagon’s head of southeast Asia.

Global Olympic partners such as Coca-Cola, Visa and Alibaba will get top billing in all official Olympic venues. The consistency of being able to market to international guests both in their home country and in Tokyo will allow them to be more memorable, said Steve Ryoji Yamada, director of Bridgestone’s corporate Olympic and Paralympic office, one of 13 global sponsors.

But the dense urban backdrop will be immensely crowded, experts say. Out-of-home and print media remain strong in Tokyo, in part because so many people ride the subway and commuter trains. It’s three-dimensional, too — retail signage routinely scales seven or eight stories high on city streets.

Two good examples of this: As of mid-March, Under Armour had a large logo that appeared likely to be visible from the BMX venue, and one major official showcasing area for sponsors is in the shadow of Aqua City Mall, where numerous logos plaster the exterior.

The most effective solutions to clutter involve big spending and early planning. In March, Samsung opened an eight-story retail location in the trendy, youth-oriented shopping district of the Harajuku neighborhood. It sells phones on the ground level but includes seven floors of interactive experiences made possible by Samsung Galaxy phones. “It’s perfectly located near some of the Olympic areas, and when people come and visit, they will almost certainly go in that area,” said Nicholas Bruce, Nielsen Sport & Entertainment’s market head in Japan.

The Japanese are more tolerant of messaging clutter, in part because they prioritize exclusivity in sponsorship less, Bruce said. During the 2016 Rio Games, eight top-tier domestic Tokyo 2020 sponsors shared a large out-of-home media buy along the Yamanote Line, a heavily used train line that circles Tokyo. “It’s more a reflection of the collegial nature of the way Japanese think, in the sense that they’re more than happy working together,” Bruce said.

The rush is forcing prices up, even though Tokyo in general has an ample supply of hotels and restaurants. But wealthy corporate guests need luxury and proximity, and facilities that fit that bill are in short order, with hotels in central Tokyo going for two to three times the base rate during the Games.

Felicity Shankar, managing director of the British hospitality agency iLuka, said Japanese restaurants tend to be small — maybe 30 seats total — which complicates large hospitality programs. “You’d have to break up the group, which isn’t ideal, and then that creates another cost if you need another bus and more staff,” she said.

Starting early and branching out of Tokyo could also help sponsors stand out.

When asked how Bridgestone, the only global Olympic sponsor based in Tokyo, would be sure that guests remembered the tiremaker’s unique messaging and not simply as one of scores of sponsors, vice chairman Shu Ishibashi quipped: “Good question.”