I’d never been to Tokyo before Seven46 began working on the city’s bid for the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games. In my mind, it was "the capital of the future": a city of skyscrapers, extraordinary technology and crazy youth fashions. And when I made my first trip to the city in March last year, I found that I was pretty much right.
Discover Tomorrow in 2020
It was this dynamism and creativity that we sought to express in the Tokyo 2020 bid strapline, ‘Discover Tomorrow,’ which also hinted at the opportunities inherent in the city’s status as a gateway to Asia. But what I also learned on that first trip to Japan was how hard we would need to work to overcome the cultural characteristics that hampered Tokyo’s previous bid, for the 2016 Games. The Tokyo 2016 bid had been seen as an excellent technical proposal, but suffered notably from a perceived lack of passion and excitement.
No time to be humble
London changed the game as far as Olympic bidding is concerned, and it was clear that we would need to adopt a more aggressive, ‘western’ style of campaigning in order to succeed. This would be completely counter-cultural for a Japanese team whose entire way of being is based on humility, respect and fair play – not to mention an extraordinary work ethic.
But over two years, our team – led by Seven46 CEO Nick Varley – worked with the excellent Tokyo bid leadership to construct a story that drew heavily on those cultural values, while also providing a clear and compelling vision for the Olympic Movement.
At the time, the shadow of the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami hung heavily over every aspect of Japanese society. We worked with the bid team to focus on the role that the sport community had played in the recovery efforts – and a desire to share that inspiration worldwide.
London played an important role in our communications campaign. First, we worked hard to maximise media opportunities around the 2012 Games. Then, in January 2013, Tokyo was the only bid to stage an international launch of its Candidature File. London was the natural choice for the event, allowing us to tap into the city’s global media hub and to exploit the news value of all things Olympic in a country that had just enjoyed a golden summer.
The newly-elected Governor of Tokyo travelled to London to appear at the event, which also allowed us to position Tokyo as a city in the image of London, and the city which would replicate the passion and commercial success of the 2012 Games.From then on, the focus of campaigning switched to the four official presentation opportunities, with a strategy to build the all-important campaign momentum through the year.
Our target for the first presentation – at the SportAccord Convention in St Petersburg in May – was to ‘win’ the round by switching the focus of the race onto Tokyo’s firm delivery credentials, and its ability to provide a ‘safe pair of hands’ at a challenging time for global sport.
Governor Naoki Inose put it best in his speech to the assembled international sport federations: "I understand that many see Tokyo as the safe option in this campaign. What I don’t understand is why some people seem to think that this could be a bad thing."
The media in particular were taken aback by the energy and humour of the presentation – in stark contrast to the 2016 campaign – and our objective was achieved.?? The vision we ultimately sold in Buenos Aires was one of guaranteed delivery; an outstanding Games experience for every visitor; and a powerful platform to promote the Olympic Values around the world.
Having now enjoyed several visits to the city, I can vouch for the fact that Tokyo is a city of Excellence, Friendship and Respect. And in 2020, you will want to be there.
Catherine Inkster is head of strategic content at Havas' Sports & Entertainment's Seven46