Humility, Not Winning, Will Take Care of Everything


It was over three years ago when Tiger Woods, the number one player in the world, considered by many as the greatest who has ever played the game of golf, and a role model, fell from grace through a series of self-inflicted, personal indiscretions.

There he was, in December 2009, the great and powerful Eldrick Woods, one of the most recognized people on earth according to many well respected consumer surveys, on the “world’s” stage, with his mother, Kultida, in tow, tearful, requesting forgiveness, looking ashamed and embarrassed, bearing his soul about his personal failings.  The universe watched as Tiger fell precipitously from global sports icon to universal pariah in a blink of a lie.  I now wonder why Red Bull, with its penchant for sponsoring falling objects didn’t sign up with Tiger right there and then as Woods’ descent, like “Felix the Spaceman,” was truly supersonic.  Even Nike, Tiger’s largest and most loyal endorsement partner, a brand that never shies away from controversy but instead embraces it, was nowhere to be found on that day as Tiger was “swoosh less” at the microphone.

The apology tour had begun.  Tiger Woods apologized, repeatedly, for days, weeks, and months.  He asked the world for privacy and patience.  He asked the globe for forgiveness. He asked the universe for a second chance; however, people all over still had questions.  Were we willing to hear him out, accept his apology, and grant him a second chance?  Would we ever be able to watch Tiger play golf again without thinking about the personal fiasco he created?  I believe the world responded with one giant…“let’s wait and see.”  So, we did.

We waited to see if he would take care of Elin Nordegren, and he did.  Who knows if one can ever overcome what she’s gone through, but $750 million seems to be a good place to start to soften the agony that she’s been put through.  Their relationship today, from the outside looking in, seems to be cordial.  We waited to see if he’d take care of his kids, daughter Sam and son Charlie, and it appears that he has.  But even the intensely private Woods won’t be able to keep Sam and Charlie away from “Googling” the events of 2009 and viewing the millions of stories that have been written as a result.

And finally, after three years of reputation rehab, the world watched to see if he’d take care of his golf game.  It appears that he has.  He’s back on top, returning to the number one spot n the world, with three tour wins this year, and six titles in the last six months.  The clutch putts are falling once again, the fist pumps and big smiles have returned, the red Sunday swoosh is all ablaze, and ugly memories of the past have faded to the background.  Finally, Tiger has climbed back to the top of the Matterhorn.  Even skiing superstar Lindsay Vonn is alongside to help him with this summit, as he chases his elusive 15th major.

But what do we get in return for holding up our end of the bargain by giving Tiger a second chance?  After all of this – after his warp speed trip from the top of the world, to the abyss, and now back?  What do we get from this man and his most loyal “be swooshed” bedfellow in Nike?  We get:

Tiger Woods

Now I know I’m falling into the trap that Nike has set for me – guilty as charged.  They’ve trapped me into talking, blogging and tweeting about their “risky and controversial” new ad campaign with Mr. Woods.  I’m jumping all the way in.  So as I do, I have to ask, on behalf of all everyone who has reentered into a contract with Tiger after he so repeatedly asked for our patience, forgiveness, and time three years ago.

“Does it, Tiger?  Does it really?  Does winning take care of everything?”  I ask Tiger directly – not his representatives at Excel Sports Marketing, and not Nike.  I want to hear it straight from Tiger’s lips.  Obviously this is a direct quote.  “Tiger…the world wants to know if you actually believe that winning truly takes care of everything?”  Will someone at the Golf Channel please step up and ask this same question?  Maybe you have should have run this quote by Elin, Charlie or Sam.  I wonder what they think about this ad?  What about your Mom, Tiger?  What does she think about this new campaign?  Finally, what about us, Tiger?  I guess we didn’t “wait and see” long enough.

Nike and Tiger have blown this one.  The first rule in advertising and public relations is to know your audience.  In this case, the audience happens to be a little group of people who make up the world!  Hello…knock…knock!  Is anyone home?  Why are billions of potential Nike customers now being reminded that three years ago we really didn’t like you?  The second rule in advertising is never to bring up the elephant in the room once it has left.  Why conjure up the ghost of scandals past and remind the consumer the full circle Tiger has drawn.  The third rule is to follow the first two rules.

If Tiger and Nike were represented by Ebben Zall Group, we would have recommended a strategy of humility and gratefulness in his current Nike campaign, speaking especially to people (like myself) who have indeed given him the compassion, patience, and apology acceptance that he so tearfully asked for just three years ago.  We would’ve advocated for self-effacement and modesty, not swagger and cockiness, from Tiger (and for him to partake in a history lesson too).

But instead, we’re in search for that same contrite Tiger Woods who now seems to be missing in action, literally, until he saunters up Magnolia Drive next week.  Where is that person who was so humbled by his mistakes?  My guess is that he’s been there all along.  In the meantime, I believe Woods, as a result of this advertising decision or lack thereof, has unfortunately stunted the growth of his recovering brand, and at the same time, diminished whatever reservoir of compassion that he had recovered in my eyes and the eyes of a few billion of my friends.

So no, Tiger, we don’t agree.  Winning doesn’t take care of everything.  Humility does.  We can only hope that someday we’ll see some from you.


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