Toyota said on Monday that it has decided against running Olympics-themed television advertisements in Japan, a symbolic vote of no confidence from one of the country’s most influential companies just days before the Games begin amid a national state of emergency.
The Japanese public has expressed strong opposition to the Games — delayed for a year because of the pandemic — with many worrying that the influx of visitors from around the world could turn it into a Covid-19 superspreader event, undoing national efforts to keep coronavirus levels low.
Toyota will refrain from airing television ads at home during the Games and its chief executive, Akio Toyoda, will not attend the opening ceremony, a company spokesman told local news media during an online news conference.
“Various aspects of this Olympics aren’t accepted by the public,” said the spokesman, Jun Nagata, according to the business daily Yomiuri Shimbun.
The ads will still be shown in other markets, Toyota Motor North America said in a statement. “In the U.S., the 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,” the statement said.
The company had prepared ads for the event but will not air them because of concerns that emphasizing its connection to the Games could create a backlash, according to a person familiar with the company’s thinking who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly.
Toyota will continue its commitments to supporting Olympic athletes and providing transportation services during the Games, a spokesman said.
The vast majority of the Japanese public is opposed to holding the Games — set to begin on Friday — under current conditions, polling shows, with many calling for them to be canceled outright.
Japanese authorities and Olympic officials have played down the concerns, saying that strict precautions against the coronavirus will allow the Games to be held safely.
Anxieties have continued to mount, however. Earlier this month, Tokyo entered its fourth state of emergency in an effort to stop a sudden rise in virus cases as the country faces the more contagious Delta variant. Cases, which remain low in comparison to many other developed nations, have mounted to more than 1,000 a day in the city, raising apprehension that measures that had succeeded in controlling the spread of the coronavirus could be losing their effectiveness.
Further complicating the situation is a steady drip of news reports about Olympic staff and athletes testing positive for the illness after arriving in Japan.
Toyota became a top Olympic sponsor in 2015, joining an elite class of corporate supporters that pay top dollar for the exclusive right to displays the iconic rings of the Games in their advertising.
Until the pandemic hit, the company was one of the most visible supporters of the Olympics. In the run-up to the event, much of Tokyo’s taxi fleet was replaced with a sleek, new Toyota model prominently featuring the company’s logo alongside the Olympic rings. And the company pledged to make the event a showcase for its technological innovations, including self-driving vehicles to ferry athletes around the Olympic Village.