Tuesday, April 13

Closing A Case Study: Tiger Remains Virtually Unchanged

Not everyone believed that Tiger Woods might escape relatively unscathed despite departing from the traditional tenets of crisis communication. But the outcome was already set. When one aspect of a brand is large enough, all other aspects can be spun away leaving the core unchanged.

At his core, Woods is a golfer. And as he walked from the 11th green to the 12th tee, men and women of all ages rose by the hundreds and greeted him with a warm, crackling roar in the backwoods. Never mind the back story.

All Woods had to do is prove he still had what it takes to put the ball in the cup at the 2010 Masters Tournament. And by all accounts, he did just that, finishing fourth along with K.J. Choi.

Suddenly, no one much cares whether the Rasmussen Reports found only 43 percent regarded the golfer's public apology as sincere. And hardly anyone will remember the creepily exploitive Nike advertisement that accompanied his return to the tee.

No matter what you thought of the affairs or how they came to light, Tiger Woods is still a professional golfer whose achievements to date rank him among the most successful golfers of all time. And since his other exploits are unrelated to his golfing career, none of what he did has any affect on that fact beyond changing how he is presented as a brand.

The loving husband image is gone, but the guarded golfer lives on.

If public relations professionals underestimated anything about Woods, it was how much his brand was related to what he did on the golf course as opposed to off of it. Sure, some people felt he was big on selling himself as a family guy. But most Americans only know him as a golfer who putted against comedian Bob Hope on national television when he was 2 years old.

For those preplexed by it, the Fragile Brand Theory sheds some light on the subject. Some people like Tom Cruise crash for far fewer transgressions while others, like Woods, won't.

Public perception plays the role of setting expectation as, for whatever reason, the public saw Cruise as a package with his boyish charm turned “rugged good looks, flashy smile, and three Oscar nominations.” Actor had equal weight or even less weight than all the other messages that revolved around him. Woods, on the other hand, had two huge attributes: private and golfer. As long as those remain in tact, Woods will remain in the game.

Sure, some brands bolted, but only those that enjoyed those lesser messages. Nike, on the other hand, had no qualms about keeping him. Woods is an athlete. Nike is about athletes. The only prerequisite Nike has is that the athletes are good. Had Woods finished 30th or if his infidelity had something to do with steroids or sports wagering, then they would be less inclined to stick with the cooperative brand relationship. It's about that simple.

That still doesn't excuse the ad as a "Just Don't Do It" moment.

Sure, it's creative. There is no mistaking it as divergent thinking. It takes a wild twist of thinking to get a golfer to surrender audio tapes of his dead father to overlay on top of his near expressionless, somewhat brooding likeness. I don't have any reservation saying it would have never occurred to me.

All that aside, it's an ad that only advertising and public relations professionals would like. For most people, they just walked away from it confused or disgusted.

THAT is the measure of an effective advertisement. It's never about what the ad gurus and communicators think. It's always about what the public, specifically the intended audience, thinks. The question isn't whether it's creative. Creative is easy.

The questions are: Does it make you want to like Woods and Nike? Does it make you want to buy shoes? Did Nike learn anything? I suspect it learned that other than the parodies, the Nike ad helped make the entire sordid affair seem old.

And if that was the intent, they did a fine job. If the intent was to sell Nike products, it fails twice. It doesn't make anyone want to buy a product. And while it shows Nike will stick by Woods, it disrupts the Nike brand in that no one ever anticipated the company would would fund the production of a tasteless, despite being creative, commercial. Yawn.

See what I mean. It's a tired tale. Case study closed.

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