• Transform magazine
  • December 09, 2023


Postponed Olympics retains 2020 naming, branding


2020 is an odd year, despite technically being an even number. 2021 may be even odder. The postponed 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics will become the…2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics.

The decision to postpone was made on 24 March after discussions between organiser Tokyo 2020 and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and following  significant pressure from various global teams and sporting organisations. But the decision to retain the 2020 brand is an intriguing one. No other Olympics has been rescheduled for another calendar year.

IOC president Thomas Bach said, “We also agreed that the Olympic flame will stay in Japan, as a symbol of our commitment, and also as a symbol of hope. We will also keep, for these symbolic reasons, the name Olympic Games Tokyo 2020.” In a follow up message to the Olympic athletes and hopefuls, he said, “We all will be able to celebrate the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, even if it's only in 2021.”

It might have been a question of marketing spend and existing merchandise. It would also be a slightly awkward approach in terms of naming convention as all Olympic Games – summer and winter – are held in even years. Andy Payne, Interbrand’s global chief creative officer says, “All of the work has been done. All the signage has been created. It’d be a huge reinvestment for the country and for the Olympic organising committee to redo.” And beyond that, there will be signage, ticketing, digital assets, media development, apps, social media graphics, security badges, volunteer uniforms. The event was scheduled only a few months from now, so Payne – who has worked on Olympic branding in the past – points out that most things will be locked down. It’s not an insignificant change to alter branding at this point in the timeline of one of the most logistically complicated events on the planet.

Sponsors too, will have committed time and money to developing assets for their Olympic partnership over the past few years. Changing the name at this point would require a significant reinvestment on their part at a time when the global economy is facing uncertainty.

But, beyond the logistics, it’s a symbolic decision as well, as Bach alludes to. The Olympics is a moment when the world can come together. That will be a notion heightened by the fact that the Tokyo Olympics will take place after the world will have suffered through the Covid-19 crisis. “I think the overarching principles of the Olympics are inherent in the brand itself. It’s bigger than any one date, any one city, any one event,” Payne says. “That idea of the celebration of human potential, the breaking down of barriers or borders, of cultures coming together around sport binds everything together. It will be seen in that light."

There are opportunities, though, with regards to the naming decision. As Bach says, the Games will be a beacon of light representing global celebration and a triumph over challenges. That’s true of any Olympics. But with additional time to prepare, sponsors can reap even more benefits out of their engagement with sport and with “humanity coming together,” says Payne. It will give the Tokyo 2020 committee – which has committed to a truly sustainable games – time to ensure everything runs smoothly during the Games themselves.

And on 23 July 2021 when the Opening Ceremony finally takes place? “There will be a heightened focus on a greater celebration,” says Payne. Not just for those in Japan at the time, but spectators the world over. “I think it’ll be a true global celebration and coming together after the virus.” There will likely be some reminder of the reasons for postponement and explanations about the unusual naming convention. But, the world will likely remember this period, this “unique moment in generations,” as Payne calls it. The Olympics will, as they inevitably do, unite the world once again around sport and human achievement; no matter what year is on the marquee.

Photo credit: Tokyo 2020