The Advertising Apprentice

December 15, 2009

Presumed Guilty Until Proven Innocent

Filed under: Advertising — adamlauzon @ 1:13 PM
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First off let me start by saying that this entry will not discuss Tiger Woods’ alleged cheating with the women that have made such allegations against him. Rather the purpose of today’s entry is to talk about the impact these allegations will have on the Tiger Woods brand and whether the recent events will affect his endorsement deals with companies like Nike and Gatorade.

To properly grasp the potential impact of these allegations, check out this link from Sports Illustrated and consider the following numbers:

  • In 2008 Tiger Woods made a total of $99,737,626.
  • Of this nearly $100 million, $92 million came from endorsements.
  • This means that just 7.76% of the money he earned was from tournament winnings and salary.

Woods has often been criticized in the media for controlling the information that is revealed about him and for living a very personal life off the golf course. Now the cynics would argue that the allegations of all these mistresses would explain why Tiger’s kept his life so private. But let me ask you this, when more than 90% of your yearly compensation is tied to endorsements and when it matters what the public perception is of you, wouldn’t you too want to set boundaries and do what you can to restrict elements from your private life getting out?

(For a really good story on Tiger Woods’ private life, you have to read this article. It was written by hands-down my favourite writer, and the reason I continue my subscription with Esquire, Chris Jones.)

Despite what’s happened over the last few weeks I think Woods’ past behaviour of keeping things private has everything to do with protecting the “Tiger Woods brand”. People whose livelihoods depend on their image do the same thing all the time. It pains me to make this reference, but Paris Hilton is one of those individuals.

(Let’s remember that what Woods is going through at the core is in no way different than what thousands of couples experience every year when one partner allegedly steps out and breaks the vow to remain true to their spouse. Just given that Tiger is seen as a public figure everyone believes that it’s fair-game for public discourse as he is the face of so many companies.)

Right now the roughly dozen companies that sponsor Woods are probably deciding whether or not in the face of these allegations if they want Tiger to continue to represent their companies.

According to Woods’ website, the following are his “official” sponsors:

Of this list Gillette has announced that they’ll be phasing Woods out of future marketing campaigns and Accenture has plans to do the same. With Tiger’s plans to take a break from golf for an indefinite period you have to think that it may be hard for some of these other sponsors to support him for much longer. (Though EA Sports must be happy with this ordeal, as I’m sure they’ve seen a huge spike in video game sales of Tiger Woods PGA Tour 10!)

There is no right answer for what these companies should do. Wrigley didn’t take long to suspend a commercial they had starring Chris Brown shortly after news of his assault on Rihanna came out. Yet some sponsors, including Subway, chose to keep their arrangements with Michael Phelps after that infamous picture of him taking a bong hit surfaced.

This has no doubt put the companies that pay Tiger Woods A LOT of money in a difficult position. They have to decide if it’s viable for them to stick this out with Woods and hope that it blows over sometime soon (which I believe it will) or do they sever ties to prevent the allegations and the new light that’s been shed on Tiger Woods’ private life from affecting the way their products are positioned in consumers’ minds.

It seems that the court of public opinion usually demands a quick/swift reaction from “the powers that be” when public figures such as Woods, Brown, or Phelps make mistakes. (Don’t forget as humans we are prone to make mistakes.) And in most cases the companies that have hired these athletes/celebrities to endorse their products will act accordingly so as to not let their actions not tarnish their product image. And this is usually done in haste without giving the athlete/celebrity a chance give their side to the story. That is not to say I agree with the transgressions of the public figures, but rather I don’t agree with making assumptions based on fragmented details. I much more prefer to hear all the sides of the story before forming an opinion on a subject. However the court of public opinion is unjust in this regard and as such “you are presumed guilty until proven innocent”.

Stayed tuned as in my next entry I will be discussing the widespread impact of YouTube in its nearly 5 years of existence.


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