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The Fearful Symmetry of Tiger Woods

From the Winter 2009 Zeitgeist…

The Fearful Symmetry of Tiger Woods

Brand ambassadors are nothing new. Napoleon (seen above in a casual pose) has long been such an ambassador for the watchmaker Breguet, having worn one during his short (for he was short) life. But what happens when the real world conflicts with the manufactured artifice? Are all of Andre Agassiʼs triumphs now overshadowed by drug addiction? What of recent rumours that Tony the Tiger is diabetic?

Tiger Woodsʼ indiscretions have highlighted such concerns; what happens when an athlete who is not only a champion in his chosen field, but also seemingly the epitome of a gentleman in his private life, turns out to be less than perfect? Tigerʼs presence – a young man of mixed ethnicity in a sport dominated by old, rotund white guys obsessed with the faux exclusivity of country clubs – was a huge statement in of itself. It was for all these reasons though that some major blue-chip brands chose to invest in his good name. Who can forget the fantastic Nike spot of yesteryear?

While his namesake currently graces the Spirit Airlines website, Tiger can unfortunately no longer be found on the Accenture homepage. For a company to so abruptly end such a sponsorship is an enormous blow to both parties and both brands. Industry Standard wrote, “Tiger has literally become the sole face, the strategic embodiment, the business essence of Accenture, the $22 billion global IT, outsourcing and business consultancy proclaim[ing]: ʻWe know what it takes to be a Tiger.ʼ Everything about that slogan has now become a PR debacle, comedian’s punch line and perplexing psychological  examination…”.

Tiger is now on an “indefinite” leave from golf and the brands that rely on the sportsman solely for his golfing prowess are sure to be affected. Electronics Arts will have a hard time selling the umpteenth version of the Tiger Woods PGA Tour franchise if the eponymous player does not compete. TV ratings for golf tournaments will similarly suffer, according to the FT and New York Times. Nike, PepsiCo and AT&T are all of a ʻwait and seeʼ mindset. Gillette will “remove its Woods-related advertising for now” in order to respect his much sought-after privacy. Gilletteʼs triumvirate has suffered of late. Thierry Henry is also mired in scandal after denying Ireland a place in the World Cup by somewhat guiding a ball with his hand at a crucial point in the game. Gillette has denied the act will affect his contract. Roger Federer seems to be the only one currently untainted, though not wishing to jinx him, Zeitgeist will move swiftly on…

Ultimately, such crises can be fleeting. Michael Phelps, pictured with a bong and promptly dropped by Kelloggʼs, will not be forgotten for winning a Fort Knox-worth of gold medals in Beijing. NFL player Michael Vick organised brutal dogfights in his free time, but returned to the game to cheers from the fickle crowd. There may be lasting impact this time, however. As the Zeitgeist team have said before, if caught, the best practice is to immediately admit culpability, express sincere contriteness and take ownership of the situation, as Accenture have done.

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