"People say: 'Well, how do you gauge the exact return on investment?' I don't think you do," said Jack Hollis, the Toyota marketing executive who has been named strategic director for Olympics marketing for the U.S. "This is not a return-on-investment play. This is our company wanting to be something bigger."
What does that mean for a company that's already the world's biggest automaker?
The "something bigger" idea, Hollis said, comes from CEO Akio Toyoda's desire to extend Toyota's philosophy of "ever better" beyond making cars. Sports -- the Olympics, in particular -- challenge everybody to be better on a global scale, and that's the philosophy with which Toyota wants to align itself, Hollis said.
Toyoda's "thing is 'How do we reach out globally to make people's lives better?' and he thinks expanding our sports strategy is the way to go," Hollis said. "And the Olympics is a part of that."
Many other automotive manufacturers have seized on the thrill of sports to propel their brands across a range of demographic groups, but international competitions offer an even higher-profile platform for a select few. Hyundai, for example, supports international soccer's World Cup.
The Olympics are a good fit for a company such as Toyota because a wide cross-section of people watch the games, and that fits with the broad audience the Toyota, Lexus and Scion brands serve, said Bill Daddi, president of Daddi Brand Communications, a New York marketing company.
"The Olympics is widely recognized by all consumers as really being the pinnacle of our culture today as an event we gather together to watch," Daddi said. "The expenditure and actual exposure are superseded by the prestige a sponsorship of that level" can bring Toyota.
Toyota's Olympic marketing rights are limited to Japan only until the end of 2016. The global partnership, which was announced in March, kicks off in the beginning of 2017, when Toyota officially has the rights to use and display the Olympic rings in its advertising around the world.
It will retain those rights through the 2024 Summer Olympics. The location will be announced in 2017; Paris and Los Angeles are considered front-runners.
That Toyota's home country of Japan is hosting the Summer Olympics in 2020 played a big role in the company's decision to sign on as an Olympic Partner, considering the major advancements expected from the automotive industry by the end of the decade.
"There are a lot of things coming in 2020," Hollis said. "New vehicles, autonomous, fuel cell, the growth of ride sharing in Tokyo. So I think the opportunity and the timing is perfect."