The Olympics are usually an advertising bonanza for big brands, but the Tokyo Games are increasingly being viewed as toxic.
Toyota has moved to distance itself from the troubled event, which officially starts on Friday.
On Monday, it was revealed that the Japanese car maker, one of the Tokyo Olympics’ biggest sponsors, would not run Olympics-related ads in Japan during the Games, opting instead for regular ads.
Toyota has also decided not to send its chief executive officer to the opening ceremony, which the public has been barred from attending due to coronavirus concerns.
“We wanted to refrain from attending while people who were looking forward to the event cannot go now,” Toyota representative Hideaki Honma told CNN Business.
After being postponed a year due to the pandemic, the Games are due to start on July 23 and run until August 8, followed by the Paralympic Games from August 24 to September 5.
But many have questioned whether the Games should be going ahead as Japan battles to contain the coronavirus amid low vaccination rates.
Last month, the Financial Times reported that Olympics sponsors were fearing brand damage from being associated with the Tokyo Games, and were taking advice on whether to proceed with marketing.
“Companies had hoped to raise their brand value by sponsoring a major global sporting event, but it’s becoming difficult to actively promote the fact that they are sponsoring the Tokyo Olympics,” the FT quoted an anonymous source close to the Japan Advertisers’ Association.
Deakin University lecturer in management and marketing Michael Callaghan told The New Daily the Tokyo Olympics had become too controversial and risky for brands to be associated with.
“When we think about the way the Olympics is going to be perceived by the general public, we already know that much of the population feel that it’s irresponsible to be having the Games the way they’re doing it,” Dr Callaghan said.
“They’ve taken spectators out of the whole process. The Olympic Village is cordoned off, and they’ve already had a few close calls with COVID.”
For big brands, “that basically speaks to a very subdued Games that doesn’t come with the shiny, promotional opportunities of the Olympic Games”, Dr Callaghan said.
Although sponsors of the Games originally signed up to “associate with one of the stellar sporting events” in the world, they are now “at risk of associating their brand with the most mediocre Olympics that’s ever been held”, he said.
There is also “a real risk that the Olympic Village itself could become a hotspot” and the Games becomes a super-spreader event that “ends up being an absolute tragedy”, Dr Callaghan said.
“There is no way Toyota, or a bank or any other brand in the world is going to want to be associated with that,” he said.