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Toyota won’t run Olympics ads in Japan and several sponsors’ CEOs will skip the opening ceremony

<i>Chris McGrath/Getty Images</i><br/>According to a company spokesman
Getty Images
Chris McGrath/Getty Images
According to a company spokesman

By Chie Kobayashi, Gawon Bae, Chandler Thornton and Michelle Toh, CNN Business

Toyota will have a subdued role at the Olympics in Japan this year, despite being one of the event’s biggest sponsors.

According to a company spokesman, the automaker will not be releasing any commercials related to the Tokyo Games in Japan, choosing instead to run its “regular” ads there.

The representative, Hideaki Honma, emphasized Monday that the company was not “canceling” any Olympics-related commercials, saying that none were planned in the first place.

According to Toyota’s North American division, the automaker’s decision is limited to Japan, and was made “out of sensitivity to the Covid-19 situation in that country.”

In the United States, a “campaign has already been shown nationally and will continue to be shown as planned with our media partners during the Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020,” that division later said in a statement to CNN Business.

Toyota is one of the top sponsors of the Olympics, alongside major global brands such as Coca-Cola, Samsung and Visa.

Its mixed approach across countries highlights the complexity of the situation as the world continues to grapple with an uneven recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

In the United States, for example, no advertiser has asked to make changes, according to a spokesperson for NBCUniversal, an Olympics media partner.

“In the US, Toyota is not adjusting any marketing plans for the Olympics. Nothing has been canceled or altered,” she told CNN Business. “Toyota is all systems go.”

This year’s Olympics is shaping up to be unlike any other, with ongoing protests to cancel the Games and thousands of volunteers pulling out.

Earlier this month, Japan confirmed that the Games would be held under a state of emergency due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Some Japanese business leaders have also spoken out amid the controversy. In May, Rakuten CEO Hiroshi Mikitani told CNN Business that it would be a “suicide mission” for the country to host the Games this summer.

Honma also confirmed to CNN Business that Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda would not be attending the Olympics opening ceremony, set to take place this Friday.

“We wanted to refrain from attending while people who were looking forward to the event cannot go now,” Honma said, noting the recent decision by organizers to not allow any spectators, because of public health concerns.

Asked about Toyota’s decision during a press conference Monday, Tokyo 2020 spokesman Masa Takaya said he “wasn’t aware” of the news.

But he acknowledged that Olympic sponsors “must have been struggling to support” the Games this year, particularly amid “mixed public sentiment.”

“In that respect, there must be a decision by each company in terms of … how they should be able to convey their messages to public audiences from [their] own corporate [perspectives],” he told reporters.

Safety concerns

Organizers will review the decision to allow stakeholders into the Olympic stadium during the opening ceremony, which is slated for July 23, Seiko Hashimoto, head of the Japanese Olympic Committee, said earlier this month.

But in some cases, businesses have already decided for themselves. On Monday, Procter & Gamble, another top Olympics sponsor, confirmed that its executives would not be attending the event later this week.

“As you can imagine, this is a highly dynamic situation and we are making informed decisions based on the best data and information we have available to help keep everyone safe,” a spokesperson told CNN Business. “As such, we have decided not to send anyone from P&G to the opening ceremony.”

Panasonic, which is also one of the Olympics’ biggest partners, told CNN Business Tuesday that CEO Yuki Kusumi would not be attending, either.

“Our policy is to allow our executives to enter only when it is necessary for business,” said Airi Minobe, a company spokesperson.

Minobe added that “the events hosted by our company during the Olympic Games will be held online or canceled,” while “participation in joint projects with other companies are currently under consideration.”

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to clarify that while Toyota will not be running commercials related to the Tokyo Games in Japan, the company’s North American division will move forward with plans for its own US-based ad campaign.

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