Why I Don't Like The New Tiger Woods TV Ad From Nike

Thanksgiving 2009 was not your ordinary Thanksgiving weekend! It was around that time that we found out that formerly bulletproof, always laser-focused, all-time-best golfing luminary Tiger Woods was actually leading a double life.  And the description “double life” is positively limp when trying to convey the depth and breadth of his dalliances. He was on a somehow-secret Olympic-caliber raging sex bender that blew TMZ’s site metrics out of the water, disappointed his fans, and probably left a few guys secretly just a wee bit jealous.

Here’s the problem from a consumer perspective. We’re already fast-forwarding over TV commercials, using Firefox ad-blocker plug-ins to crush banner ads, and squinting to read all those tiny ads on the very bottom of the front quarter panels of NASCAR vehicles (unrelated in-post mini-rant: don’t roll up on me and question the ROI of Social Media engagement, because the use of Social Media is infinitely more measurable than those clusters of tiny ads all over race cars. Even if you could read one of them as the car is approaching 200mph, they’re all bunched together worse than a website’s tag cloud.  What a waste of money!).

Consumers are weary of advertising. At least we’re trying to come up with new ways to advertise (Facebook targeted ads instead of crappy banner ads).  I believe this is where Tiger actually does owe us all an apology. For years, we’ve been consuming his ads, and consuming the products he endorses.  Companies are convincing us with highly-paid spokespeople and beautifully constructed ad campaigns that they are the go-to solution for shoes, razors, sports drinks, etc. When the branding tool turns out to be a 12x philanderer, we all feel a little betrayed. I don’t feel the least bit guilty for feeling that way.

Granted, I think the general public has an unhealthy appetite for trash news like this. But The Basement Entrepreneur and a bunch of experts positing this theory is not going to change a damn thing. Hence, Tiger cheated with 12+ woman, and The National Enquirer and TMZ made sure that all 12 were extensively reported on. (people hate on The National Enquirer, but they rocked the John Edwards story, and now Tiger too.)

Post-scandal, we heard nothing from Tiger. Not a damn word. How did the guy avoid being photographed for 3-4 months?  How in the hell did he pull that off?  He was the #1 paparazzi target (Paris who?), and not a single shot of him? He would have had to keep every shade of every window in every room he was in drawn shut for 3 months straight.  Simply amazing. This was a herculean effort to keep him out of sight.  Then, his robotic performance back in February (uhhhh, I could not have done much better).  Then his two 5-minute interviews, where he refused to answer some questions. And then his Masters news conference, where he was maybe 50% candid, but still pretty scripted – he was “on.”  While he did admit to doing “horrible” things, he still wouldn’t say, “I was in sex rehab.”  Throw us a bone!

All the while, I think many people are wondering if he and Elin are going to stay together. We worry about his kids. Everyone has problems – we want to see if Tiger and Elin can work out this huge problem, because if they did, it would give all of us married people a little hope.  However, we’re not getting that side of the story from Tiger. That would be fine, except for……..

This ad, as read by Tiger’s deceased father Earl:

“Tiger, I am more prone to be inquisitive, to promote discussion. I want to find out what your thinking was. I want to find out what your feelings are. Did you learn anything?”

CONFESSION:

It’s a well-made ad.  I am impressed.  Looks good, sounds good, makes you think. Nike always has great ads.

THE PROBLEMS:

1. Nike and Tiger are raising Earl Woods from the dead to help them out of a jam. This isn’t a dead Fred Astaire dancing with a Hoover vacuum (1997 Super Bowl ad).  This is ten times worse!  Dead Earl Woods has no say in the matter!  He can’t not participate, because he’s dead!  No choice, old man, my marketing buds at Wieden and Kennedy need to “re-engage” my audience, so start talking.

2. “Did you learn anything?”  Tell me if I’m nuts, but Earl Woods is asking Tiger the question, but we are left to answer it.  And the implicit answer is “yes.”  We are not left to think, “We’ll see how the next few months go”  Or “Nope, didn’t learn a thing, I’m going to Hooters.”  We silently in our heads answer “yes” as the Nike symbol hits the screen, commercial over.  And that leaves us feeling 10% better about Tiger.  The ad worked!  At least Tiger didn’t nod “yes” to the question!  I’ll give him that.  I don’t want to answer this question for you, Tiger. You need to answer it by being faithful over time, and if you want to use this stuff as a marketing tool, then Elin is fair game – let’s hear her side of the story.

3. Remember why we brand, why we market – to sell more stuff. That is what it comes down to. That is always what it comes down to.  Nike, Tiger, and Wieden and Kennedy are throwing Tiger & Elin’s problems directly in the mix here to, in the end, sell more stuff.  Is that OK with Elin Woods?  From Tiger’s wife’s perspective, she’s in one of four places:  1.) She wants more money upon divorce, so go get back with Nike and get to work, and go win the Masters too, 2.) Elin is privately in anguish over Nike’s ad and everything else too, 3.) she’s already resolved to divorce him, but is still working out the details, so none of this really matters, or 4.) She has forgiven him and they’re moving on.  Wouldn’t it really, really help Nike if the answer was #4?  Yes it would. And isn’t Tiger clearly willing to help Nike?  Yes, and airing this ad now proves it.  Therefore, if the answer truly was #4, we would know about it. That awesome bit of information would be made public, because it would be good business.  However, we are hearing nothing about this from Tiger Inc.  Therefore, the answer is not #4, so they still have problems (not a stretch to think).  That makes this a really distasteful time to air an ad that alludes to his hyper-infidelity. (I made up a new word!)

4.  “Well, that ad…… people are talking about it.” I can go on a multi-state shooting spree and get talked about. Why is this the measure of success here? We’re talking about a man’s marriage – one in which husband and wife are ostensibly in the throes of trying to save.  Is it really time to “re-engage” and “reposition?”  I guess this is how marketing people have to think. You’re paying Tiger Woods so much money – if you’re not featuring him in ads, he’s dead weight. I just feel the timing is off here – too soon.

So in a nutshell, using a dead father to reposition a philandering son during an extremely tumultuous time in the man’s marriage is just weird and creepy.  What do you guys think? Does the general public just not understand marketing well enough to see the genius here, or are Nike and Tiger pushing this repositioning and re-engagement on us a little too soon?

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  • http://forrestbivens.com/ Forrest

    In agreement in principal with your observations Chris, however business IS business. In this world, it supersedes personal concerns. Tiger is simply a commodity when it comes to selling stuff. He is a brand, and from that angle it's time to move on, even separate him from his personal life activities. Consumers have short memories, Nike knows that and out comes this ad. Getting people to discuss his business and personal life is the quickest way to do that. By the end of this golf season his transgressions will be a footnote and THAT is the business of Tiger selling Nike.

    And for those that feel he let us down as a 'role model'? http://www.forrestbivens.com/tiger-woods

  • http://twitter.com/jenncloud jenn cloud

    Ohmigosh, this is is going to become a textbook example of post-millenial marketing very soon..the colossal freedom available to superstars these days, the dissolving of personal/professional barriers and the constantly growing obsession of their public with how they live..should companies now be trying to CONTROL their endorsement stars in every aspect of their lives or find clever ways to capitalize on their indiscretions..? (Or, you know, find some way to minimize this and respect that celebrities are still human beings with real emotions and difficulties..? Naaaaaaaah.)

    I see this as a really brilliant but, as you say, still totally weird and creepy PR move; and I also agree with Forrest, Consumer Joe isn't as geeked about the “WHY?!” as we are and generating the buzz was probably worth the alienation of some.

    I would never ever ever have made that ad, myself, but I can't deny it's like a trainwreck for me..Oh, cool and eww..skin crawling, simultaneously..these'r strange times for advertising we's enterin' into..

  • http://www.thebasemententrepreneur.com/ Chris Reimer

    Good blog post, Forrest!

  • http://www.ladyumbrella.com/ LadyUmbrella

    Great read with lots of valid points..could very well be right that scenario 4 hasn't materialised (or will not)..also, spot on with the point about ROI when people are spending a fortune for a few inches of space on a car whizzing around a racetrack – give me twitter anyday…

  • http://forrestbivens.com/ Forrest

    Thanks Chris, I didn't think you'd mind so I posted a trackback link in my comments to this post of yours…

  • jonfalk

    Chris, I think you make some great points here. You got me thinking and I wanted comment on the value of celebrity endorsements in general. In my “normal” day-to-day life, I guess I really question the value marketers get at purchase time from endorsements. Is Nike seeing an increase in product sales now that Tiger is in their advertising again and playing in the Masters? I know the TV ratings for the Masters are up and that exposure is great for golf, the other advertisers…and really great for CBS. But, I think it would be interesting to find out what Nike gets from all this commentary around the recent ad…are they really selling more stuff? Even bigger question, is the Nike brand stronger?

    I look at it this way, these endorsements come from people that are paid to push a certain product, and that product may not be the best one or even the right one for certain people. These “personal” endorsements are folded into a system of marketing, then the endorsements are put on display by the advertising industry…for me I just don’t see not much that is personal, true and genuine with these kinds of endorsements.

    Nike sells a ton of stuff, Nike is easy to buy online and in various bog box stores. Nike is hard to avoid in the market. Nike is well made and a pretty decent value when you look at the product style and quality you get. Pre Tiger Nike sold a ton of stuff and once Tiger is done Nike will still sell a ton of stuff. I would say that Tiger does not matter all that much to me. If the product was a joke, having a Tiger endorsement would be like putting lipstick on a pig (not calling Tiger a pig right here). Tiger was pitching Buicks for a while, he did not REALLY matter. Buick needed to fix their products if they wanted people to by them like the Lexus brand..like hotcakes. Parking lots at the country clubs are filled with brands like BMW, MB and yes a Lexus or tow…Tiger was the lipstick on the pigs Buick made, did not matter. By the way, Buick is way better today, but in the U.S. it might be too late for Buick.

    So the point is this, the brand, the product and the customer experience really matter.

    Pi here in St. Louis has great pizza, Obama had some once and he said is was the best he had ever had. That unpaid “endorsement” made Pi the most popular pizza place in town overnight. Obama liked it and he said so because he felt like it. That is one really powerful lesson that we can all use, and social media provides each of us with the great endorsement power. If I like a coffee shop (or a certain wine bar…Chris Merlot Reimer) and I say so, that is good. If I purchase a car and I feel I was treated well and I tell others, that is good. If I get tired of the cleaner breaking the buttons on my dress shirts and tell others about it, that is good if someone tells me about a place I should try. A couple short years ago we did not have mainstream tools to share like we do today. I know I took a huge U-turn with this follow-up post, but I guess it comes back to the fact that we are talking about and doing things today where we are the ones that making the endorsements, for free, in the eyes of the public, because we want to help and be helped. Endorsements that are earned, not purchased, run deep and they matter. For proof, look at Accenture, or Gatorade or ???.