In the Face of Turmoil, Do You Stick With Your Pitchman?
The whole world watched as the life and image of professional golfer Tiger Woods were turned upside down. Some fans fled, others reenergized their affection for Woods, and that sentiment was echoed with his sponsors. With news today that the golf megastar will return to professional golf at The Masters on April 8th, we will soon be able to measure the impact of recent events.
While shorter-lived sponsors Accenture and AT&T bolted in a snap-reaction to the public response, others like Nike, EA Sports, and Gilette have proven their loyalty to their revenue-driving pitchman. Should sponsors jump ship as soon as their sponsee is involved in non-violent, non-criminal moral controversy?
Image: Yahoo! Sports
Individuals on both sides of the debate are passionate and immovable, and companies making their decisions about whether or not to keep a pitchman need to gauge these feelings, work from the percentages and determine how they align with the company’s overall strategy. By performing market research studies and focus groups, they can determine the positive or negative impact keeping an individual onboard and continuing the business relationship can have on their overall brand image and revenue streams.
Nike, Tiger’s flagship sponsor and closest business partner, has restated its commitment to Woods as a player and a person. Some might argue that any other decision would have alienated Nike Golf in the eyes of the geneal public. Woods has single-handedly built Nike Golf into a massive, multi-million dollar titan of the industry on the back of his inhuman play on the course and his previously untouchable image off the course. For Nike to split at the drop of a hat, they could have been perceived as weak and easily swayed (not exactly the mark of a steady champion brand).
Image: Nike Golf
The overall strategy and message of the company plays a key role in determining whether or not to drop a sponsee, and in this respect, Accenture’s quick-reaction dumping of Tiger as their pitchman is suspect. Accenture claims to battle the ups and downs of the business world, navigating changing market conditions, and persevering through challenges. So when the company made the snap decision to drop Tiger, they argued that Woods no longer met their company standards and image of integrity. By asserting Woods’ lack of connection to their core values, they opened themselves to scrutiny. Selectively choosing which values he does and does not embrace contradicts their message of solidity and perseverance. Perhaps the strongest example of Accenture’s contradiction is exemplified in this advertisement:
“What You Did 10%, What You Do Next 90%”
The complexities of these situations are easily recognizable, and there may not be a “perfect” way to handle them. However, it is important that a company – no matter the size – takes their strategy, message, and brand image into consideration. The return of Tiger Woods to professional golf will be an intriguing study of the way businesses handle controversy in the public eye. The media frenzy that will surely accompany Tiger to the heavily-controlled environment of The Masters opens Woods’ sponsors to tough criticism or unparalelled glory, much of which is riding on the performnce of Tiger on the course.
It is a symbiotic relationship between Tiger Woods, his sponsors, and the televension networks. If he plays poorly, their image may be temporarily tarnished. But if he plays well, or even wins, the sponsors will experience the ultimate redemption, and one must believe that Tiger will generously reward those who stood by his side in his time of need.