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Les Seifer

vice president, head of creative

Tokyo 2020: the greatest time machine

As brands start to unleash their delayed Tokyo Olympic campaigns, Nobuaki Nogamoto, copywriter at UltraSuperNew Tokyo, reflects on what a delayed Olympics really means for advertising.

The long-awaited Olympic Torch Relay has finally come, and as the flame started its 121-day journey across 47 prefectures of Japan, my mind seemed to have a Grand Start of its very own thought relay. I started to think of all the things I would have done differently if I could go back in time, say a year. I will not send that embarrassing drunk text to my ex. I would buy more bitcoin, or at least not panic sell when it dropped drastically. I would travel the world and spend more quality time with my friends before the pandemic hit. Sadly, time only runs forward; what we did we cannot undo; what happened, happened. Or does it?

Walking through the streets of Tokyo, from the main roads to the narrowest streets, it is filled with posters that promote the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, and although the year has passed, the name will remain as is. Many creative industry pundits suggest updates to the existing branding and naming of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in order to embrace the circumstances and acknowledge the fact that the pandemic happened, impacting Athletes and the world as a whole. However, I believe that renaming Tokyo 2020 to anything else than it already is will do the exact opposite, simply moving on without a fight. It still feels as if time had just stopped when the postponement was announced back on March 24th, 2020, and to just renew the name in order to move on? That doesn’t sit right with me. Keeping the name as is, signifies much more than just closure.

As a resident of Tokyo, living just 15 minutes of walking distance from the newly-built and not yet inaugurated Olympic stadium, every time I walk by it, it reminds me of all the great moments and celebrations that could have been shared around the world. All the cheers, laughter, roars, and lives that could have filled not only the stadium but also the year 2020 if the global pandemic didn’t take it over. It’s a global-scale regret that we had no control over, but if we could rewind time, if we could have a do-over, how uplifting would that be to not only Japan but the entire world? Hosting the Tokyo 2020 Olympic games in 2021 will be like having another go at the year 2020, like taking a trip back in a giant time machine.

From the first announcement of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in 2013 until today, the world has changed drastically, but there’s no doubt that the biggest change happened in 2020. Who could have predicted such a horrific global pandemic would happen right in the year where the world was supposed to come together as one, to celebrate? The press has gone from writing very cheerful articles of the event, to sensitively tip-toeing around the topic, to negative pieces, finally discussing the repercussions of cancelling the Olympics, in a matter of months. Well, with the new Olympic dates (fingers crossed) just around the corner, despite all the negative opinions that are out there, here is something positive I have to say about the topic:

Since the birth of the global event in 1896, the Olympics has been cancelled three times in the course of history. Once during World War I and twice during World War II. Perhaps we as the world are in the midst of World War III, but this time, fighting against a common threat; COVID-19. The Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, if it happened as planned, was going to be an event with huge marketing and PR opportunities, economic benefits for Japan, etc., but now it has become something way bigger than that. This specific Olympics will not only have monetary and PR value but will leave a significant impact in the course of history, like the one that truly marked the beginning of a new ending for 2020. Tokyo 2020 will be remembered as the Olympic Games where the world not only competed with each other but truly came together to fight as one big team—with the Olympic torch becoming the beacon of hope, symbolizing the light at the end of the tunnel.

So, here is my final opinion: keeping the name and brand of Tokyo 2020 is the right way to go. Why increase the budget and go through so much trouble to change something that can deliver a stronger and more meaningful message? It’s our job as creatives to go beyond, disrupt the norm and be unconventional to achieve something great, and this is it. Those of you out there who think the same way or perhaps were even slightly convinced by what I had to say about the matter, whether you are near or far, let’s take a positive journey in this time machine together: We have a year to reclaim.

Nobuaki Nogamoto is copywriter at UltraSuperNew Tokyo.