What Tokyo 2020 Means For Marketers

The announcement a few weeks ago that Tokyo is the winner of the bid to host the 2020 Olympic games was a great achievement for Japan -- and proof of Asia’s ongoing position as a global cultural powerhouse.

London 2012 was widely recognized to be the most successful games of all time, both athletically and in returns for those brands that chose to buy into its marketing juggernaut. But will Japan, a country supposedly past its economic prime, deliver the same opportunities and potential rewards?

When Japan last hosted the Olympics in 1964, the Tokyo games put the country firmly on the international map. Worldwide attention and investment offered the nation the self-confidence to become a global economic and cultural leader, in the process kick-starting three decades of phenomenal growth.

By the time 2020 comes around, 56 years will have passed since Tokyo ‘64, and Japan will be nearly three decades past its supposed economic peak.

While Japan’s worldview and international reputation have been largely clouded by the idea of "lost decades," the country's biggest problem is not a poorly performing economy. In fact, the national economy has performed better and more consistently than any in the developed world over the last two decades, and living standards here continue to improve.



The truth is -- Japan has been suffering from from a "where next?" malaise. Having caught up and then some with the rest of the world leading up to the 1990s, Japan's nationhood seemed to have lost direction. For a country that invented the future in the 1970s and 80s, the fall from grace of national icons such as Sony and Sharp has led to a lack of national self-confidence and increased introspection.

So the Tokyo 2020 win is just the psychological shot in the arm the nation needed, unlocking huge potential for Japan's businesses and brands on a national and global scale.

Although slightly under the radar, the country is still a manufacturing Goliath. It is one of the few countries to have a trade surplus with China -- producing most of the significant components of iPhones, for example.

Japan's service industry is the most refined in the world, and is poised to go global. Indigenous organizations such as retailers like FamilyMart and 7Eleven are already flexing their international wings, and local retail fashion sensation UNIQLO has big ambitions on the global scene.

These globally minded service brands are putting Japanese values of politeness, attention to detail and efficiency at the center of their international brand strategies. These values are spreading -- adding to the crucial characteristics that will contribute to a refreshed Japan Inc. image.

History tells us that Japan does not tend to invent new realms of global business like the Web and smartphones. Instead, it has historically caught up fast and added a new dimension of competitiveness to the market, as in the case of the automotive industry.

So perhaps Japan's time for Web services is coming. Japanese social platform LINE has reached a staggering 230 million global users in just two years -- breaking all records in the process, and showing that a digital user experience can be both intrinsically Japanese and have global appeal at the same time.

Based on its growing international interests and pro-growth economic policies, national sentiment is already strong in 2013 and the expected YEN3trn boost to the domestic economy will only strengthen that.

Tokyo 2020 will reveal a stunning image of a sophisticated metropolitan nation, solving first world issues through technology and progressive policy while doing just fine economically. This positivity will offer fantastic opportunities to both Japanese and international brands that choose to associate themselves with it.

Quick off the mark as ever, Coca-Cola has already begun to associate itself with the Games, reminding consumers of a long association with the Olympics -- surely just the beginning of a newfound interest in "brand Japan" for many others as well.

Going forward, the greatest rewards within Japan will come to those brands that successfully interweave fresh and relevant narratives into the emerging consciousness and digital landscape of Japan's new era. The key to success is forgetting what you think you know about the Land of the Rising Sun to embrace one of the planet’s most exciting and forward-thinking countries.

This same process of reimagining is just what Japan’s consumers are now doing themselves, and as Japan takes the center stage, the opportunities to share in this success may be endless.

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