Thursday, April 8, 2010

Brands Intertwined: Building Character Through Crisis

Since the news of Tiger Woods' several infamous marital affairs broke out in December 2009, the public watched as most of his major sponsors cut ties with him one by one. All but Nike.

With Woods making his return to golf at the Masters earlier today, Nike debuted its new TV ad on ESPN and the Golf Channel. Within one day, the advertisement has earned more than 1.7 million views on the NikeGolf YouTube channel and extensive analysis on several blogs across industries, wide-spread discussion on Twitter and Facebook, as well as conversation in discussion forums. It's even spurred a life of its own as an internet meme overnight with several examples of video spoofs. The original ad features a black and white shot of Woods with a voice-over of his deceased father asking him what he's learned from his mistakes.

There is particular relevance about this ad from a public relations standpoint. It demonstrates a level of transparency between two brands that have remained interlocked throughout a crisis. In a statement, Nike said:

"We support Tiger and his family. As he returns to competitive golf, the ad addresses his time away from the game using the powerful words of his father."

Rather than pulling out when times got tough, Nike is hanging in there and hasn't shirked from incorporating the personal aspect of Woods' troubles into its communications strategy. It makes brand sense for Nike because without doing so, it would be hard for Woods to be a credible figure for the sale of golf apparel.

The ad also demonstrates consistency. It's coherent strategy for Nike to support an athlete who's been dehumanized in the public eye for his mistakes- after all, that's what happened to them in the 90s after revelations came to light about their negligent labour practices in southeast Asia. Despite that, the company has grown from $6.4 billion in annual revenue in 1996 to $18.6 billion according to its last fiscal year. In time, a similar rebound will likely occur for Woods too. This highlights an important point: that people and organizations are not the sum total of their mistakes. But they do need to be held accountable. This ad does just that and serves to manage the discussion around this very public issue in a proactive way. I think it's a sharp play.

What's your take?


  1. Hey Ani, looks like I get to be first to comment on your nifty new blog. Luckily for me, I happen to be an expert at both golf and PR (well...maybe just PR...I shot a 78 once, I swear!).

    I hate this ad. I'm sorry. It's downright creepy. I'm sure Nike executives are high-fiving themselves over the free exposure they've gained for themselves. Good for them. But there are lines which can be crossed. Using the words of dead people to sell your product and scrub the image of your greatest promotional asset is just plain wrong.

    As for the golf itself, it was a true testament to Tiger's outwordly ability that he was able to place fourth despite the fact he couldn't hit a drive to save his life. I drive the ball better than he did on Sunday. Seriously. Not lying.

    The problem is, Tiger promised a new kind of Tiger. He promised that he wouldn't swear and throw his clubs around like my dad on the course. Well, mission failed on that one, big time. He was downright unprofessional. "Tiger Woods, you suck! God dammit!" - stay classy big guy.

    His closing interview was worse. He sounded like nothing had changed. The whole "if I don't win it's not worth playing" attitude that's gotten him so far was completely inappropriate. He was graceless in defeat when a little humility would've done more to repair his image than a hundred creepy Nike ads.

    I really didn't care about his indiscretions until recently. Found the whole thing kinda funny, actually. I'm a guy, can't help it. But when I heard the story about how he (allegedly) exploited the 21 year old neighbour's daughter, the girl he'd known since she was 14, that was it. I'm now very much a Phil Mickelson fan. I imagine 99% of all women, the casual viewers of golf and not-so casual consumers of products Tiger may have once endorsed, agree.

    So, in the end, Nike will continue making money. But their star asset will never be the same. It's just a matter of time before Tiger's contract starts to look like a liability.

  2. Hey Sean! Another characteristic well played, soundly argued and insightfully funny take as you see things. I think you should start your own blog!

    I see and hear what you're saying. And it makes perfect sense. I'm coming at it from the perspective that there is brand consistency on Nike's end and that this ad hits a new level of transparency. Usually we see a split between a personal and professional figure's life, but not in this case. If you're going to be this guy's sponsor, you need to be very proactive about your message and try to lead the conversation- and Nike did just that.

    Now, is it strange to invoke a dead father to make that point. Absolutely! Does it make it right- probably not. But it did get people talking- to date, nearly 3 million to be exact. That's how many people saw the ad just on the Nike YouTube channel alone. And it's spurred countless blogs and articles in discussion forums and industry publications... so it's done it's job :)

    Hope Ottawa's being good to you! Love to hear what you think about some of my upcoming posts on blogger relations, CSR and Conan O'Brien. Ciao for now!