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Japanese consumers value Olympic legacy more than promotions from sponsors

Brand sponsors of Tokyo 2020 should focus on legacy impact

The excitement of the Rio Olympics has passed and with the stunning appearance of the Japanese Prime Minister dressed up as Super Mario, the baton of world interest passed to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. Just last week, social media ignited with speculation that the Japanese are planning to launch artificial meteorites from space to create a truly cosmic firework display to open their Olympics.

From a communications perspective, recent Olympics have often been characterized by the predominant tools that were used by spectators and media to share and amplify the latest athletic feat or record-breaking win. We had the “Twitter Olympics” and the “Social Media Olympics” and while these monikers may be useful, the challenge is that in an era of storytelling, the focus seems to fall more on the instruments of telling rather than the story itself.

Taking up this challenge, Edelman Japan conducted some research to try and identify the expectations of the Japanese people for their second Olympics. Understanding these expectations can give brands significant insight into how they should be leveraging the Games to create lasting engagement with consumers.

The results of the survey suggest that just being a sponsor of the Olympics alone is not enough. While 72% of respondents said they would be favorable to the products and services of Olympic sponsors, when asked if that sponsorship would trigger a purchase decision, only one in five replied that it would. Only 9% replied they would recommend those products and services to family and friends.

The top expectation for Olympic sponsors, from 45% of Japanese consumers, is that they will contribute to the legacy of the Olympics. This was significantly higher than the 32% that looked forward to campaigns or the 28% that selected promotional offerings. However, of all age groups surveyed, students were the most likely to be influenced to buy or recommend products from an Olympic sponsor at 39%. Perhaps this is a suggestion that the younger generation is less jaded about their relationships with brands.

To build a stronger relationship with the brand – taking it from one of just interest to true advocacy – Olympic sponsors must be part of the problem-solving legacy. Brands must be seen as contributing alongside key stakeholders and other sponsors of the Games toward a common lasting legacy for the 2020 Tokyo Games.

What do Japanese consumers see as being the key desired legacies of the 2020 Olympics? 42% of respondents replied that contribution to economic growth was the most important legacy. A similar number, 46%, nominated good use of sports facilities post Olympics. Improvement in public transport (38%) and Wi-Fi infrastructure (32%) were also high on the agenda. It seems that a lot of discussion about the post-Olympic economic slump, pictures of ghost town Olympic villages and talk of the economic burden of holding the Olympics has driven Japanese consumers to look to longer-term infrastructure benefits.

For the younger age group, 20% see the Olympics as an opportunity to learn English and hope to participate as a volunteer. The most jaded age group appears to be the 25- to 49-year age group, where 44.6% replied they were indifferent to Olympic sponsors, although this dropped to 22.9% for those with children. This should be a particular note of caution as the 25- to 49-year age group are those most likely to be driving consumer spending in 2020.

Ross Rowbury is president and representative director of Edelman Japan and can be found tweeting @rjr39.

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