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Tiger Woods Nike Ad, a Bad PR Move?

The Nike ad. Just say those three words this week to a sports fan and it’s pretty much understood they’re talking about the Tiger Woods ad for the shoe and apparel company that debuted on SportsCenter and GolfChannel.

The social mediasphere immediately began to weigh in on its value or misplacement. By Thursday, I believe that at least 50% of my Twitter stream, sports and non-sports people alike mentioned something about the ad. That’s a boatload of tweets on one subject, and something I don’t think I’ve ever seen.

Naturally, I viewed it in a public relations sense. In a week that Woods returns to the professional golf tour after an early morning auto mishap in November sent his career to the curb for five months, I wasn’t excited about the ad.

At first glance, the Nike commercial, which is scheduled to air prior to The Master’s, is gripping. Woods stares straight ahead in black-and-white during which his late father’s voice basically asks about his thinking and if he’s learned anything. Knowing the gist of Woods’ relationship with his father, it grabs a viewer’s heart, even though we know Earl Woods’ words were spoken in another time and place. Emotion. That, of course, is what Nike wants.

That said, I think it was too soon for Nike to try to sell a self-proclaimed, humbled Woods. I realize and respect that the company has stood by its mega-million dollar investment, but since Woods only two days prior actually exchanged words with the press and the public, his sincerity has yet to be proven.

I reiterate from other posts that I don’t think Woods owes the world intimate details about his marriage or affairs. It’s more than obvious, however, that in light of sponsors’  reactions and his effect on professional golf’s image, his is still the sport’s most captivating. With that comes a responsibility to act like a trusted voice of a business. Woods is making a public effort, but he’s not there, yet. With the Nike ad, he takes an about-face on what he’s maintained to be private – his father and family – and pokes holes in his own messages. He essentially tells the media and public that much remains private except when it relates to selling something.

It goes against one of the top rules in public relations: be consistent.

According to CNBC sports business reporter, Darren Rovell, the ad will likely be viewed more than one million times in 24 hours. Nike, which enjoys cutting-edge messages, is undoubtedly thrilled. The commercial is provoking discussion like few other paid spots, and I admire it for its creativity.

From a PR standpoint, however, I think the Nike ad returns a viewers’ mindset to the salaciousness of a topic that I believe the Woods camp would rather silence, especially during the week of a major. The ad prompts discussion that may have otherwise been somewhat muted. Without the it, people would be talking more about Woods’ golf, which I think is more appropriate for a man who wants to turn the page in the court of public and professional opinion. Nike could have showed its support in other ways. This only brings about heated discussion hours before Woods attempts to turn the page on his career.

So, that’s my take as a PR agent. Do you think the Nike ad helps, hurts or doesn’t have any affect on the way people view Tiger Woods as he returns to golf after one of the most closely covered sports stories in history?


Image by Jim Epler

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32 Responses to Tiger Woods Nike Ad, a Bad PR Move?

  1. cheffian April 9, 2010 at 3:06 pm #

    Good article – thanks. I am a free market, capitalist, entrepreneur. Therefore, I am all for Nike protecting its investment and making a buck (or several million!). But the most important thing a 'star' and his/her sponsors need to remember and understand is that s/he has become an instant role model to children. That has generational impact. With all the media available to our kids today, it is very hard for parents to undo the messages they penetrate into our kids heads. Regardless of whether we are able to limit their intake of media or not, they still get the messages from other young minds at school, practice, wherever. Businesses have a responsibility to make as big a profit as possible but to do so with some responsibly. So for Nike to try to smooth things over and try to rescue TW from his unbelievably poor behavior certainly does not make me want to go out and buy their products. In fact, it makes me want to run the other way and buy another brand – and that's just what my family will do.

  2. Robert.R.Cathey April 9, 2010 at 5:16 pm #

    Good article, Gail. Thanks.

    I looked at this from Nike's standpoint, and came to the conclusion that it was probably a smart move for Nike. For Tiger, the mess of the past six months will forever be a part of his brand. So, the only thing he had to lose was the creepiness and alleged sellout from taking his father's comments (almost certainly) out of context.

    My blog post on this from yesterday is here:

  3. gailsideman April 9, 2010 at 5:57 pm #

    Thanks for the input cheffian and Robert. Interesting thought that some people may avoid Nike because of this ad. In that case, it would be a double PR fail. I believe, however, I think you're in the minority, cheffian…and that's just based on what I hear in the gym let alone what I'm reading and hearing from other sources of media.

    I have to wonder — as Tiger started to post birdies and eagles yesterday, I almost put the kibosh on this post going public. Now we're finally talking about golf more than the “transgressions” and here I am bringing it up again.

    I do think it serves as a lesson for sponsors and the people who endorse their products and services.

  4. Jess Shultzaberger April 10, 2010 at 3:02 am #

    I think Nike made a big mistake with this ad. Any Nike ads done with Tiger need to be strictly about golf. This was a horrible ad. I can't believe smart people came up with this. I thank them for their mistakes so I can learn from them since I am a PR major. Good article, glad you posted.

  5. John Tull April 10, 2010 at 1:34 pm #

    I don't think the ad helps him. Too much too soon! Just play golf, be courteous, be resepectful, answer the tough questions for a while and move on. This whole thing is not going to go away over night. The fact that the ad featured a remix of his dad's words from an old ABC interview, and had nothing to really do with Tiger also makes this a bad PR move. Tiger built up his image over the years to allow himself the opportunity to make lots of money on endorsements and make some good commercials. If I was Nike I would lay off the Woods ads for a while or just stick to golf. After watching the ad all I thought about was “man, how could he do that to his wife and kids”

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