Kurt Verlin
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Toyota Removes Olympic Ads in Japan

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Toyota is one of the Tokyo Olympics’ biggest sponsors but less than a week from the opening ceremony, the automotive giant has announced it will not air its Olympic-themed ads. Toyota’s North American division says the decision is limited to Japan and was made “out of sensitivity to the COVID-19 situation in that country.”

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The announcement was made alongside news that Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda would skip Friday’s opening ceremony, though the company still plans to provide more than 3,000 vehicles to the games, including a few self-driving electric shuttles.

The Olympics, originally scheduled for last year, were postponed because of the pandemic. The decision to go ahead in 2021 has been met with significant pushback as nations are recovering unevenly from the pandemic. Less than a quarter of the Japanese population is currently vaccinated, protests for the Olympics are ongoing, and by June, 10,000 of the 80,000 registered volunteers had already quit. Despite all of this, Japanese officials confirmed in early July that the Games would nonetheless be held under a state of emergency, without spectators.

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Toyota spokesman Masa Takaya admitted that Olympic sponsors, which include Samsung, Coca-Cola, and Visa, “must have been struggling to support” the games because of the mixed public sentiment. “There must be a decision by each company in terms of… how they should be able to convey their message to public audiences from [their] own corporate [perspectives],” Takaya said.

Though Toyota denies canceling Olympic-related commercials and claims none were planned in the first place, it seems likely the automaker is seeing the writing on the wall and attempting to distance itself from an event that is increasingly looking doomed to fail.