Tokyo 2020: The Branding Stuck in Time

As you all might know or guess, the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics were postponed due to the pandemic. This brings up an interesting question though. How are they handling that? The Olympics are a very important event for any city hosting it, they predicted it would bring the city of Tokyo $2 billion alone! Not to mention Japan has been rumored to have already sunk 25 million dollars into the event, making it the most expensive summer Olympics in history.

As an advertiser or marketer or public relations professional, ask yourself: What would I do? You’ve spent months creating a brand called Tokyo 2020 for games that are no longer happening that year, and the whole world is thinking about anything but those summer games. How do you get out of this branding crisis?

Tokyo’s Campaign

Tokyo has decided to keep all of the branding the same, even keeping the 2020 element in the logo. This is interesting, and at first you might think this was lazy, but the marketing goes deeper than that, and not changing any element was a smart move. Tokyo’s belief was that they had already shown the world their initial campaign, changing the logo and brand can be a shock to consumers and it would require the entire campaign to be restarted. The last thing you want in a campaign is to confuse, and by keeping the same brand they are maintaining consistency, In addition, the deliberate choice to keep year of 2020 despite it being now in 2021, is an example of a tremendous way to create a narrative and add meaningful context to a brand. Tokyo realized that rather than changing the year to rebrand in a hurry, keeping 2020 in the branding plays into a powerful story of the hard year the world had, and will add to the long legacy of the games. It sounds strange, but we need story and closure as a species, so by Tokyo not blotting the year from the history books, they do well in acknowledging the global struggle, and make the games that much more anticipated.

NBC’s Approach

Despite Tokyo’s ideas, NBC Television Broadcasting Company took a different approach and designed their own brand for their coverage of the Olympics. Their new logo features the year 2020 with the ending zero replaced by the word “one” in text.  I think their logo represents how adaptable humanity is and how much it can do in times of turmoil when we all towards a common goal. Its new design can be seen as a new future as we exit the pandemic, whereas Tokyo chose to keep the same logo as a way of paying tribute to the events we have faced.

As great as the narrative behind NBC’s logo may be, their practical design leaves less to be admired. Many find the logo to be confusing, interpretable to read in many different ways. It would have been wise in my opinion to emphasize the hard work Tokyo has spent on their brand, including the different circles that represent the world coming together, much like NBC’s new design. Also, two logos exist for the same event which add on to the confusion, as they share little in common besides the Olympic rings. NBC’s is less tasteful to me, and it goes to show what happens when designers and ad folk are forced to scramble and change years of work in a matter of weeks or months to keep relevancy. Confusion!

I think this example highlights just how chaotic the world of branding and design can be. The world is unpredictable and the design you made yesterday may be completely unusable today. You’re trying to create a message that resonates with people, but what strategies work changes everyday and is out of our control. We have to be ready to adapt and understand how the narratives behind designs impact them.

By Selena Alvarado


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