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By Itamar GeroAugust 26, 2016In Branding

Made in Japan: Branding Takeaways from the Tokyo 2020 Olympics Video

You have to give it to the producers of the latest videos and presentations in the 2016 Olympics; when these guys play, they don’t play around. Every sports fan from around the world knows where it’s happening in 2020, and Japan did not disappoint in reminding the world via the presentation at the conclusion of the games in Rio. Who would have known that Mario and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe are one and the same?

In all seriousness, though, when you see the video, you just know it was “Made in Japan”. That’s called branding.



Owners, managers, and contributors of any small business can learn a thing or two from such strong branding. To help you get that small business branding campaign down pat, based on what the 2020 Tokyo Olympics video showed the world, here’s a list of five things you’ll do best to remember.

Go For Timing

“Your branding strategy will be largely unsuccessful if you don’t time it well and show it to the right audience.”

Where and when you do things to strengthen your business branding matters a lot. As a matter of fact, your branding strategy will be largely unsuccessful if you don’t time it well and show it to the right audience. Given: Japan is broadcasting to the world because the event it is hosting is for a worldwide audience, not just for sports fans in Tokyo. Given: it incorporates images of athletes because that’s what the Olympics is all about, competition in sports.

You may not be marketing to the world but you definitely have to reach a niche. Learn where and when the members of that niche are likely to encounter your brand. Are they users of a particular social network? Then it is time to create a strong presence in that network. Are they from a particular generation, do they have an inclination towards a particular activity, say, sports? Match those facts, as well. Be present, and be there on time.

Go for Something Relatable

If “viral” was a term coined decades ago, it would have been applicable to Pac-Man, the Toru Iwatani creation for Namco, released in Japan in 1980. It would also describe the original Mario Bros., which followed in 1983 from Nintendo created by Shigeru Miyamoto. The Atari VCS version of Pac-Man, called Puckman, was featured prominently in the 2015 movie “Pixels”, a testament to the lasting presence and recognizability of the game.


PacMan - Olympics



Pac-Man is in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics video, along with Mario and team Fujiko Fujio’s manga series character Doraemon, another one of the most popular characters from the land of the rising sun (Doraemon is the Suzuki Motors brand ambassador). If these characters share one thing, it is their renown. Everyone knows who they are. People can relate to them because they are staples of pop culture—and not just any pop culture, but the one that comes from that part of the world.

Give your audience something relatable, and they are more likely to be hooked. They will talk about your brand, or at least remember it for giving them something they know and like. Make them realize that they can reach you, and they probably will.

Go for Fun

You picture a Prime Minister as someone who is too busy and important to have any time to be fun at all. But then you see him enlisting the help of Doraemon to get to an appointment on the other side of the world on time. And he’s not just the Prime Minister anymore; he’s Mario, the lovable plumber who’s the best example of an “everyman”. Fun is good; people like it. It may not always apply to creating a brand, but it is often more acceptable to a larger number of people. Besides, whatever your business is, you are likely to find a part of it that can be fun. This is why even a hospital would put up a billboard featuring a happy and healthy family. A car company would show a driver enjoying its new offering on or off-road.

Shinzo Abe - Pacman - Rio Olympics


Put a smile on people’s faces, and you’re a step closer to earning their trust.

Go for Imagination

You can’t make all of those elements in the video happen, but you can imagine them to happen—all together, to the tune of some good, fun music. Strengthening the branding of a small business requires imagination too. What elements appear in your branding materials are up to you, but remember to take into account all the items on this list; you don’t want to go overboard.

Go for “What’s In It For You”

Whatever you do with your branding campaigns, let people know—in one way or another—what they stand to gain by supporting your brand.  

Your audience can enjoy your branding strategies, but at the end of the day you are left with one question: “What’s in it for them?” In the Tokyo 2020 video, people know that if they watch the Olympics they will be treated to near-superhuman feats of strength, speed, timing, talent, and athleticism, as well as the many wonders of Tokyo and its rich culture. Given: you expect these things and more from the Olympics, but there’s no reason not to remind people what they’ll get out of it.

Whatever you do with your branding campaigns, let people know—in one way or another—what they stand to gain by supporting your brand. The very best brands enjoy instant recognition because people already know what they’re getting, but now and then those brands still produce more that will give their customers something new. This is why you will never hear the end of the iPhone, or Nike shoes, or Coca-Cola products. They sit on the strength of their brand, and continue to produce more on top of that strength, thus giving it even more strength. They keep the “what’s in it for you” factor top of mind because they know if they don’t, someone else will give customers a stronger argument. Case in point: Blackberry. Case in point: Friendster.

Branding is one of the most important parts of running a business, perhaps second only to the quality of what you offer. If you must be reminded of what you should do to strengthen your brand, watch the Tokyo 2020 Olympics video again and again. Enjoy it. Then set about building a brand identity based on the elements that the video made you enjoy the most.


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