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The 2020 Tokyo Olympics have kicked off and there is one question I have heard above the rest; what do you mean “2020”? Despite the games moving to 2021, it was decided last year when they were postponed that the name of the games would stay the same because of the insane costs that go into the marketing materials. This move is displaying to the general public just how long ahead marketing and advertising must take place to be ready for release.

And conversation around advertising continues to be closely tied to the Olympics this year as controversy rolls on supporting the move to continue the games despite the surge of COVID cases in Japan. CBC reported that, “Top corporate sponsors in Japan like Panasonic, NEC, Bridgestone, Fujitsu and Toyota have taken steps to distance themselves from the Tokyo Games, with some even scrapping all Olympic-themed television advertisements in the host country.”

Even with many advertisers pulling out of their Olympic themed content, Canadian advertisers are moving forward with their creatives and their plans. According to AdAge, “This year, the Olympics have netted more than 60 sponsor and partner brands at various levels of endorsement.” The brands that have decided to stick with it are hoping to grab onto the feeling of hope and resilience that is tightly weaved into the games.

Whether brands have decided to support the Olympics this year or not is only a piece of the puzzle as most of the pressure is on the people and whether or not they decide to watch. The Olympics have been cancelled on three occasions during World War I and II (1916, 1940, and 1944) but this marks the first time the games have ever been postponed. Advertisers are not only contesting with a moral dilemma but with the changes in viewership behaviour since the Olympic postponement.

The opening ceremony showed underwhelming numbers with NBC reporting that their viewership was at 16.7 million which marked a 33-year low and CBC reporting a primetime “audience of 1,010,000, down from the 1,254,000 who watched the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympic Winter Games opener and way down – not surprisingly given that it was in a matching time zone – from the 3,337,000 CBC viewers who watched the start of the Rio Summer Games in 2016.”

These numbers aren’t just a reflection of sentiment surrounding the games but of the changes that have happened in viewership behaviour in the last year. According to a report from Convergence Research, there was an estimated decline of 389,000 Canadian TV subscribers in 2020 compared to a decline of 278,000 in 2019.” And with more households cutting the cord, finding an outlet to watch the Olympics – especially given the large time differences – is a more difficult task than past years.

With the decision to stick to the 2020 Olympic name, the cost of new marketing materials may have been spared, but the immense changes that have happened in the last year in media show that 2020 has quickly become out of date. The traditional ways of broadcasting and advertising for the Olympics shifted in that short period of time and the stats are showing that. Like many things, digital is taking the stage. NBC’s streaming audience grew 76% from 2018 and CBC saw a 41% jump in digital views for the opening ceremony, showing that the focus should have been less on whether individuals will support this year’s games but where those that do will be focusing their attention.