Can the Tiger Woods brand be revived?
“Go On. Be a Tiger” no longer has the favourable connotations it did only a month ago — so it is hardly surprising that Accenture, the consulting firm that made the phrase its tagline, has decided to end its marketing relationship with Tiger Woods, following his confession to marital infidelities.
The golfer and his family will suffer a heavy financial price in addition to the personal cost of his alleged misbehaviour: Gatorade, Gillette and Nike are at least temporarily suspending deals that, with prize money, had made him the first athlete to become a billionaire, according to Forbes magazine.
Yet reports of the death of Woods’ brand are exaggerated. If he follows the right disaster-management strategy, one day he could be coining it again.
Branding types are not impressed with his tactics so far.
“He didn’t behave like a billion-dollar brand,” says Marian Salzman, a trend-forecaster at EuroRSCG, a big advertising firm. “He didn’t get out in front of it, first choosing denial rather than coming clean.”
In particular, Woods did not find a credible spokesman to defend him in public by arguing, say, that he was hired by Accenture and others for his sporting skill rather than how he conducts his personal life. (Instead, the most prominent golfer to stand up publicly for Woods was John Daly, who has had gambling, alcohol and weight problems, as well as four wives.)
The spokesman could have pointed out that he had not been caught committing a crime of any sort (apart from careless driving), nor did he have problems with drinking or gambling, nor had he been a bad father — offences that Americans are less ready to forgive. He could have asked the news media to dwell less on the episode to “protect his children,” says Salzman.
Woods and his advisers seem to have been either “incredibly naive or arrogant,” says Salzman, especially by failing to recognize the growing power of social media. The voice message left for one alleged mistress asking her to “take your name off the phone” could not have spread so rapidly to millions of people only a few years ago. The blogosphere, Twitter and other networking tools spread the speculation about his personal life quickly, especially during the Thanksgiving holiday when the traditional mainstream media are putting their feet up.
“That made it all the more important that he get out in front of the story,” says Salzman.
It is instructive to compare Woods’ case with that of another sporting celebrity accused of infidelity: David Beckham. He strenously denied the allegations but his spokesmen also limited the potential damage by responding to them more rapidly than Woods’ did.
In particular, Team Beckham ensured that the news media were quickly briefed with information that cast doubt on some of the accusations, notes Andy Milligan, author of Brand It Like Beckham and co-founder of The Caffeine Partnership, a brand-advisory firm.
Beckham also played the “family card,” making hastily arranged appearances with his wife and children in the presence of hordes of paparazzi — although Elin Woods may not have given her husband that option.
Beckham also had the advantage that the two core features of his personal brand were sporting prowess and fashion, neither of which was fundamentally damaged by the allegations, says Milligan. It is even possible to imagine that tales of amorous exploits, even untrue ones, might add spice to his marketing campaign to sell Gillette razors, under the slogan “The Best A Man Can Get.”
Celebrity endorsements go wrong, says Milligan, when the celebrities do something that undermines the “product” that they have made themselves into. For instance, the recent admission by France’s Thierry Henry, another Gillette spokesman, that he committed the offence of “handball” during a World Cup qualifying game has hurt his main selling point of being a great sportsman.
Woods had built his image around a supposedly squeaky-clean personal life as well as his golfing prowess. Nonetheless, there are signs that Woods is getting out of the rough and back on to the fairway.
As when Perrier water was discovered to contain traces of benzene in 1990, or when Bridgestone Firestone faced claims (which it denied) in 2000 that some of its tires had caused deadly crashes, the first step on the road to recovery is to withdraw the product from the market. Woods has done that by announcing on his website that he is taking an “indefinite break from professional golf.”
This, plus the right apologetic noises, as Woods is now making, “reassures people you really care” says Milligan. Then, after a suitable period of absence, he can relaunch himself in the public eye — perhaps a tearful appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show?
Completing a successful relaunch of the Tiger brand will require two things: a new narrative for his personal life, and a return to success on the golf course (the pursuit of Jack Nicklaus’ record for winning majors remains a gripping tale).
Broadly speaking, his ideal strategy on the personal side is to tap into America’s love of a good redemption story by rebuilding his marriage. If that is not possible, a fresh start with a new wife (preferably not a former cocktail waitress), while continuing to be a good father, represents Plan B.
A riskier option would be to abandon the wife option altogether (but not the good-parenting strategy, which no one would forgive), and remake himself as a playboy. There is a definite market opportunity here, now that Hugh Hefner is getting on. He could even recycle his Accenture slogan: “Go on. Be a Tiger!”
Certainly, there is nothing in the fall from grace of Woods to justify claims of a “coming decline in celebrity endorsements” by businesses, as Rosabeth Moss Kanter, a management guru, suggests in the Harvard Business Review blog.
Still less is there any reason, as Sam Tanenhaus suggests in The New York Times, “to retire, or at least rethink, the adage ‘there is no such thing as bad publicity.’ ”
The whole point of this adage is that what seems at first to be bad publicity can be transformed. “Companies that screw up, then go into overdrive in apologizing and putting the situation right end up with a much deeper customer relationship than before,” says Milligan, who thinks the same can be true of Woods.
“He hasn’t committed a crime against humanity. He has just been caught with his pants down — which actually adds drama to his story, and could improve his long-term value.”
If he sorts out his personal life and wins some more tournaments, Woods could soon be on his way to that second billion. Accenture could even start running adverts featuring a triumphant Tiger with a new slogan: “However bad it looks, it can be turned around.”
Sourced from the chronicle herald