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Tiger Woods’ Branding Problem

Posted on | December 10, 2009 | 3 Comments

Does Tiger Woods have a branding problem or do brands have a Tiger Woods problem? 

The Woods story will be one of the most important lessons in brand management in recent years simply because everything is so outsized: Woods as a personality and pitchman is big; the brands are big; the infidelity story is salacious. In an era in which you can set your watch to stories about stars’ infidelity, this one turns the knob to 11.

For brands, the problem is not just that their pitchmen is caught up in a negative story (that happens frequently in our world). The problem is that story ties itself so hilariously into the tag lines of the brands that have, until now, embraced Woods. These tag lines are at risk of becoming long-running punch lines:

  • Nike: “Just Do It.” (Well, he did it…over and over and over again).
  • Accenture: “We know what it takes to be a tiger.” (Oh my).
  • Procter and Gamble (the parent company of one of Woods’ sponsors): “Touching lives, improving life.” (Touching lives, indeed; improving them? Not so much).
  • Gillette: “The best a man can get.” (Really? Really?)
  • Gatorade: “Is it in you?” (Apparently it is in their former pitchman).
  • EA Electronic Arts: “It’s in the game.”
  • Tag Heuer: “What are you made of?” (I think we’ve seen, now haven’t we?)

The damage to the brands themselves likely will be minimal, to their stock prices non-existent. Bloomberg created a stock index tied to Woods’ sponsors (chart). The companies’ share prices seem to be doing fairly well so far.

The buzz bubble on this story is done at this point. The chart I created nearby is a comparison of Google search volumes around the crises of North Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, Tiger Woods and New York Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez, who popped up in February on the baseball Steroid-o-Meter.Sanford Woods Rodriguez copy The buzz around Sanford is much higher than the two athletes because these volumes are based on time-slices compared with the average of all the searches on that particular term. Since Sanford wasn’t as famous (or as searched-on as Woods and A-rod), he spiked higher. The point is the buzz bubble is about 7-10 days for any story, and people move on to the next stranger-than-fiction story because we know from experience there.

PepsiCo’s Gatorade dropped a Tiger-named drink, but others are holding fire. In the end, the damage to the Woods brand will be far greater than the damage to the brands themselves, even as jokes and insinuations weave their way through the social-media landscape. It’s likely that not many more brands will make a big deal out of cashiering Woods, at least right now. More likely the ad silence that’s hit in recent weeks will continue; new creative will get delayed indefinitely and when contract time comes up, brands will slip away from the great golfer quietly, in the dead of night.

In a social media age when we can gauge buzz and conversation tone, we can also measure how and when  the storm subsides. Marketers are armed with better and better data every day and they watch it by the hour, they can measure its impact on their brands more and more.

But they also know the look in the eyes of the families and friends from their churches and synagogues when they come home after another day with Tiger on the payroll. That may be a more powerful motivator than the buzz bubble.

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3 Responses to “Tiger Woods’ Branding Problem”

  1. Lou Covey
    December 11th, 2009 @ 10:56 am

    I think it more depends on whether you feel any kind of connection to the parties involved or the individual biases and offense for those offering an opinion. In Sweden, the popular opinion is against Woods in a big way because his wife comes from a prominent Swedish family. In the US, golf is not a major draw for women and the women he cheated with are not considered victims. As far as his wife goes, she not much more than a pretty face. So while some people feel moral outrage, the principal players mean nothing to the outraged. Mark Sanford and Alex Rodriguez, on the other hand, figure significantly into larger groups and more people feel a direct connection to them.
    So I think most of this is going to blow over soon, and Tiger may end up with some additional sponsors.

  2. Loring Wirbel
    December 12th, 2009 @ 9:40 am

    Lou, the exception is naive golf fans who expected Tiger to be a moral compass and larger than life. Yes, there are some. My friend’s father, in his 80s, was crushed to learn of the infidelities. I said it was an excellent time in his life to learn that one should avoid having heroes, unless you can accept them with flaws. Do younger people even maintain a “bright and shining lie” vision of heroes any more, or is this just a phenomenon of the greatest gen and those growing up in the 50s?

  3. Nathan Rodriguez
    July 4th, 2010 @ 9:52 am

    Tiger Woods is a very good golfer but his reputation as a cheating husband made him a bad character..*~

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