I Removed My Belt, Took Off My Shoes, and Noticed Everyone Looking…At Tiger.

April 12, 2010

This international post comes from the not-so lovely Calgary Airport (I can’t believe the Olympics were held here). I’m on the way home from a great trip to what has to be one of the most beautiful places on earth – Banff, Canada. Anyway – I’ve made my way through US Customs and security, so the two-hour wait starts now. Picture it: at the gate, on those rows of seats where you put your bag on the seat next to you to avoid having someone sit less than an inch away. But then, when a fellow flight-mate comes looking for a place to park, you pretend like you didn’t realize (oh sorry) that your bag was occupying the only free seat. Yep that’s where I am. And in the corner is the big TV that usually airs CNN Headline News – but not today. Today it’s the Tiger Woods show, or some may call it the 2010 Masters Golf Tournament – and everybody at this gate, that gate, and the next 10 gates down are all watching. Something tells me only a small percentage of this soon to be airborne audience really cares about golf. Seriously what is everyone expecting, Tiger to take a “quickie” between holes?

I’m not a golfer, never have been, and I’m sure I’d be terrible at it if I tried. So as a non-golfer I don’t understand the attraction to watching others play golf – which is why I’m not watching Tiger and the other guys playing right now. But I expect more people are tuning in to the 2010 Masters than previous years. In fact I bet business is great for whatever network is airing it. Why? Because we take great fascination in watching heroes fall and get back up again – and that’s the sport everyone is watching today. We’re like a worldwide audience of Romans sitting in The Colosseum watching gladiators duel. However it’s a one-man show today and all Tiger is fighting is the sword of bad-PR. Guess what – Tiger is winning. People are watching him, people are talking about him, and that makes him a lot more interesting than the other dudes playing. As I write this – I’m overhearing a couple in their 60’s talking about their surprise at Nike’s choice to continue endorsing Tiger. Instead of turning around and having a lively chat with these folks, I’ll chat with you, about Nike’s decision and about the choices of the other brands that were quick to dump Mr. Woods. Maybe there is a marketing / PR lesson to be learned in all of this.

It wasn’t long after news broke about what was going on with Tiger Woods that companies began announcing plans to cut ties with the golfer. The list includes such global brands as: General Motors, AT&T, Gatorade, and Tag Heuer. I wonder if the decision makers at any of those companies were watching the spectacle today thinking “Maybe I didn’t make the right decision. Maybe we should have waited. The fans seem to really like him, still.” If I were any of those guys or gals I’d be asking the same question. Did they really do what was best for their brand or were they pressured by board members, shareholders, or their spouse?

I’m not advocating what Tiger did or didn’t do. But I am fascinated by this topic and how it impacts multi-million dollar deals with some of the largest brands in the world. These brands signed Tiger because he was a good golfer (not because he has a hot wife and perfect kids). Had Tiger been single they still would have made lucrative deals with him. So why now, when Tiger has been caught doing what likely half (if not more) of the guys in this country do (just on a much smaller scale) do the brands shut it down? Please don’t give me the whole “athletes are role models” BS. No they are not – not anymore than politicians, actors, or car salesman. The people who get endorsement deals do so because they are really good at what they do. I wonder what the percentage is of guys who cheat on their spouse who also drive a Cadillac, drink Gatorade, have service on one of their cell phones with AT&T, or wear a Tag. I bet it’s pretty high. So wouldn’t that really make Tiger an ideal candidate? After all you want the person endorsing your product to appeal to and relate with your target market – right? C’mon this isn’t a Michael Vick story; I assume few of the folks using the products Vick endorsed also had a Pit Bull fighting operation in their backyard. It’s sex and what sells better than sex in this country? Lots of sex especially when people get caught.

Only time will tell if the brands that parted ways with Tiger will be back for round 2, but I suspect many emails and conversations have taken place over the past few days questioning whether marketing folks made the best decision for their brands, or should they have waited just a little longer?

When I passed through US Customs today I walked through a large hall with 50-foot high ceilings with murals of such iconic images of The White House, Grand Canyon, the Golden Gate Bridge, and Mount Rushmore. It gave me that “proud to be an American” warm-and-fuzzy feeling, like the one you get at opening day when the National Anthem is sung – especially when they hit that high, drawn out note of “home of the FREE’. And then I wondered, if the US Customs had a sports wall of fame with such athletes as Babe Ruth, Jesse Owens, Mohammed Ali, Michael Jordan and others would they hang the photos with Velcro – just in case? Does a great athlete stop being a great athlete because they have an overly active sex drive – and they get caught? I don’t know, but it seems GM, Gatorade and others think so. This will be a fun one to watch over the next several months. I’m willing to bet $100 that Tiger Woods will sign either a new endorsement deal or rekindle one of the old in the next 6 months. Anyone want to bet? Bet ‘cha I’m right.

For me the most interesting bi-product of this is the discussion about when a brand should cut ties with an athlete or celebrity who has clearly gone outside the “bounds” – wherever those bounds are. Should they dump the athlete right away? Wait? Suspended the relationship but not cancel? Who knows. It’s an interesting thought especially when you consider we’re a very, very forgiving country – just ask Kobe Bryant, Bill Clinton, or David Letterman.

Let me know if anyone wants to take me up on the bet. My sense is, someone at one of those companies wishes they could take a “Mulligan” on their quick rush to judgement.

Cheers.
Howie

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