Relax, People: Five Reasons the New Tiger Ad Isn't a Big Deal

Mike CarleyCorrespondent IApril 9, 2010

NEW YORK - APRIL 08:  Sports fans watch the controversial new Tiger Woods Nike advertisement featuring the voice of his late father Earl during Masters coverage televised at ESPN Zone April 8, 2010 in New York City. Woods is playing in the Masters for his first tournament in twenty weeks since a sex scandal brought a halt to his career.  (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
Mario Tama/Getty Images

Call me naive.  Call me idealistic.  Call me a Freemason.

Call me whatever you want, but I absolutely cannot understand the ridiculous uproar surrounding the new Tiger Woods Nike ad that aired the Wednesday eve of the Masters.

I admit when I saw the ad on Wednesday night, I thought it was ballsy.

But now it is the day after and it seems a majority of the nation is reacting like Nike aired a web cam feed of Kim Jong Il sacrificing a pony on live television.

People have called the ad "unconscionable."

They have called it "deplorable" and "soulless."

I even heard one guy describe it as "an act of cultural bankruptcy so offensive that God should re-summon the great flood of Noah to punish us for our sins," until I realized he was actually talking about the DVD release of "2012."

(Quick side bar: my favorite thing about deplorable movies like 2012 or Battlefield: Earth is seeing that there are no less than 10,000 people in the 15 minute-long credits who worked tirelessly to creating something so awful.  Never ceases to amuse me. Yet I digress.)

A day after, it is hard to argue that the reaction to the Nike spot has been anything but sensationally negative, with news agencies everywhere calling it "controversial," but my question is why?

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People have had issues with the timing of the commercial, the Nike corporation, and Tiger Woods himself in the 24 hours since the spot hit the airwaves/interweb, and I am here to provide five solid reasons why the overwhelmingly negative opinions surrounding the ad are nothing more than overreactions.

To accomplish this, I will bring up the five most common issues that most people have with the spot and explain why this is nothing more than a normal commercial, not an affront against everything our society holds holy.

1.  This is nothing more then a shameful attempt on Nike's behalf to rehabilitate Tiger's corporate image as a spokesperson.

Is it really, people?

Before one makes a statement like this, one must take time to really think about what a corporation looks for in a corporate spokesperson.

Obviously, most (if not all) consumer goods on the market today are signified by a "brand," the brand in question here of course being the Nike swoosh.

In marketing terms, a brand is nothing more than a slogan, symbol, or or sign that represents a specific business, product, or corporation.

A brand by itself has absolutely zero value to either the corporation or the public. 

It is the job of the marketing department, through advertising and marketing efforts, to link the values that product represents to the brand that product possesses.

One of the most effective ways to do this is through an effective spokesperson, especially a celebrity spokesperson.

Spokespeople exist as an embodiment of the traits a certain brand looks to embody. 

Celebrities make such good spokespeople because they already have a certain set of values attached to them that have been propagated by their existing public personality. 

The closer the traits and values adhere to the traits the corporation wants to proliferate for their product, the better a spokesperson that celebrity is.

For instance, All State insurance wanted to convey the message that they were a reliable and responsible insurance company that would take care of its customers regardless of the cost. 

Hence, they hired the actor that played President Palmer on 24 during the height of the show as a spokesperson because, as any fellow 24 watcher can attest, President Palmer might have been the most responsible, charitable, and respectable television character ever to grace the screen.

Hence, President Palmer made a great spokesperson for All State.

Conversely, Ellen Page becoming the spokesperson for international technology conglomerate Cisco Systems is beyond head scratching.

Ellen Page was in movies such as "Juno" and "Funny People," and has really established herself as an indie, anti-corporate, life-is-too-short-not-to-have-fun actress that would be entirely against everything global consumerism stands for.

That is why it is so disconcerting to see her in these new Cisco commercials, as never once before those commercials did I see Ellen Page and think "technology" or "economic globalization."

Now we come to Tiger.

I have heard fans and radio/television personalities alike condemn Nike, saying that this commercial is nothing more than a shameless attempt by Nike to pour marketing dollars into Tiger to aid in his image rehabilitation. 

Because obviously, they say, Nike has nothing to gain by associating itself with any of the values of dishonesty and immorality most are attaching to Tiger Woods this soon after these incidents.

However, here is where we need to recognize the traits Nike has chosen to harp on in Tiger in past ads.

How many Nike commercials have you ever seen in which Tiger is in a wedding chapel with Elin stating that the key behind his success at golf was his ability to be a good husband?  Or talking about/representing family values whatsoever?  Or suggesting that you should lead those same values as well?  Never?  Thought so.

Hasn't Nike used Tiger in all it's ads as an unstoppable force? 

As an athlete who could persevere and succeed through any adversity?  As an seemingly inhuman force who would never back down to any challenge or shy away from any adversity?  Somebody that no situation could shake or deter from his goals?

Aren't these the values Nike has used Tiger to signify since day one?  Of course they are.

And in what situation has it ever been more crucial for Tiger to display the said mental toughness to overcome both physical and psychological obstacles to achieve victory than his return to the Masters after a controversy-filled 150 days off?

It is hard to argue that this is not the toughest stretch of Tiger's golf career and probably his life. 

Tiger ability to return to face his public critics for the first time, following one of the most embarrassingly public scandals in recent memory, embodies the same characteristics of mental toughness and perseverance that Nike has used Tiger to symbolize since 1996.

Tiger Woods has never faced a public outcry like he has faced over the last five months, and, if he can overcome all the ( albeit self-generated) psychological obstacles this ordeal has created to produce a respectable outing at The Masters, it will re-iterate just how mentally tough Tiger Woods is.

Which is the same characteristic Nike has strove to emphasize ever since it picked up Tiger, believe it or not.

(Note: other companies, like Accenture, used Woods' image of responsibility and accountability to promote their services.  Obviously Woods' doesn't have much of either trait left, which is why Accenture understandably dropped him.  That's the difference between other companies who endorsed Tiger and Nike.)

2. Tiger shouldn't be willing to make a commercial regarding issues he was so unwilling to discuss in his public appearances since the "incident. "

This is the main part of this whole Tiger controversy that annoys me the most.

I've heard people compliment a reporter today for asking a "great" question to Tiger regarding his willingness to make a commercial surrounding the very same adulterous issues he seems so unwilling to discuss with the press and public.

On the surface, that does seem like a valid question.  But there is one obvious follow-up question:  what else is there to know?  What else is there really to know about this whole thing?

Is anybody questioning that Tiger was an adulterous scum bag for the past few years who was so sex crazed that he was taking home waitresses from Perkins that make in two years what he makes in two minutes?

Is anybody questioning the fact that Tiger was/is in sex rehab, despite the fact that he hasn't said that exact phrase?

Is anybody disputing the fact that he has to return home to an enraged Swedish woman who probably won't let Tiger (and rightfully so) out of her sight for more than five minutes?  Even though his efforts at reconciliation might still result in nothing more than a brutal divorce?

I mean hell, we have pages and pages of Tiger's late night booty texts published online, texts so vulgar that they would make the editors of Penthouse Letters blush.

Admittedly, we would all love more details surrounding the night Tiger played Valium bumper cars with a tree in his drive way, but, as Tiger himself has reiterated many times, we really don't have a right to know that.

People nowadays have become way too accustomed to shows like "The Real World" and "Survivor." 

In "Reality TV" shows like this, fights, arguments, and drama are extremely commonplace. 

However, unlike real life, after these catastrophic confrontations occur, all parties involved take the next two hours to monologue to the TV cameras, explaining exactly what was going through their heads, how the other person made them feel, how itchy their right butt cheek was throughout the confrontation, etc.

Reality TV is a medium in which the audience is entitled to know what all contestants/people involved are thinking and doing at all times.

Real life isn't.

He's Tiger Woods, not "The Situation," and he doesn't owe us any more gratuitous personal details besides those that have already been published in the tabloids.

It'd be one thing if Tiger was using this commercial as his first public appearance since the incident. 

But after one "press conference" and one real press conference, as well as five months of tabloid scrutiny, I think the public has more than enough information on the issue for Tiger to start rehabilitating his image as a corporate sponsor.

After all, Tiger is going to have to sit his kids down one day and explain to them why the kids at school keep bringing up the website that is claiming he once texted a woman he wanted to "$#%& his $%#& with her *@!%," which will be 30,000x harder than talking to any reporter.

Again, I am not trying to make Tiger seem like a victim, as all this was brought on by his own transgressions. Just trying to lend some perspective to an issue which seems to have lost all of it.

3.  Nike just couldn't wait to boost their 9 iron sales again.

Obviously a lot of people are extremely unhappy with the timing of this television spot.

Many argue that it is both insulting and disrespectful that Nike would be so desperate to "make a buck" that they would force Tiger Woods down our throats at the first possible moment.

Anybody arguing this point doesn't have a grasp on how free market capitalism works.

In reality, consumers are people, not zombies or robots.

It seems like people everywhere are just assuming people are going to see the Tiger commercial and say things like, "Well, I hate that guy's guts because he's a horrible role model for my kids and I hate the values he stands for, but I guess he's on TV now so I'm going to go buy a new set of Nike irons I don't need."

Arguments like this refuse to take into account that a lot more than "what I just saw on TV" goes into a consumer's thought process when making a purchase. 

The argument that Nike ran this commercial to boosts sales makes it seem like there were thousands of golfers out there who were waiting to buy Nike golf clubs until the first moment they saw a Tiger in a commercial again.

In reality, commercials are nothing more than subtle suggestions, not CIA-level bouts of massive hypnosis. 

The reality of the situation is those people who detested Tiger's conduct so much that they refused to buy Nike products probably didn't have that opinion changed by a single commercial.

Conversely, anybody who liked Nike products or Tiger Woods enough continued and will continue to support Nike golf regardless of when they see another Nike golf commercial.

And, in both groups, the choice to purchase Nike products is 100% up to the individual consumer. 

To summarize, a commercial is nothing more than a suggestion, and implying this Tiger commercial will jump start Nike golf sales is akin to implying a head coach's time out speech is guaranteed to immediately improve the performance of the team after the time out.

Commercials/time out speeches are nothing more than suggestions. 

It's the responsibility of the individual consumer/player to decide how that suggestion affects their behaviors.

4.  It is contemptible and immoral to use the voice of the deceased Earl Woods to sell Tiger and Nike products.

My first counter-point would be that this argument presupposes the fallacy that marketing efforts directly dictate instead of merely influence consumer decision-making. This is an argument I just went over and do not need to revisit.

However, the other side of this argument revolves around the bedlam I heard today regarding how appalled people are that Tiger/Nike would use the voice of the late Earl Woods. 

People seem upset by the fact that Earl Woods passed away some years ago and obviously couldn't confirm whether he would want his voice/those words to be used in such a manner.

This is an argument used frequently when the voice/likeness of the deceased are used in commercials, television shows, or movies, and people attempting to exploit the deceased in such a way has lead to many controversies in the past.

The first that comes to mind would be David Spade re-filming his lines from the iconic "Fat Guy in a Little Coat" scene from Tommy Boy with his deceased friend/co-star Chris Farley for a DirecTv commercial.

(Link here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rvyZC5Wajj0) 

This was absolutely unforgivable, because not only do we have any idea whether Chris Farley gave a whiz about satellite television, but David Spade had to re-record his lines specifically so he could plug a DirecTv package for new subscribers.

In the above case, David Spade shamelessly agreed to work with the likeness of the deceased Chris Farley to make money from a commercial endorsement selling a specific product, and DirecTv used the likeness of Chris Farley to directly market a product to consumers, a product we have no idea whether Chris Farley would have supported or not.

The Tiger/Earl Woods situation couldn't be more different.

I hate to state the obvious but I need to: first of all, Earl Woods is Tiger Woods' father, not a simple co-star or friend.  Suffice it to say, we can safely assume Earl Woods would have been in support of any commercial that made his son look better.

Not only that, but anybody who has ever listened to Tiger talk about his success knows that he attributes so much of it to the tireless lessons and advice given to him by his late father over the course of his growth and career.

Since Tiger is Earl Woods' son, and would know better than anybody else what Earl would say and what he would be offended by, the fact that Tiger was comfortable doing the commercial alleviates any concerns I might have had surrounding the propriety of using the deceased Earl Woods' voice.

(Anybody who would counter by saying "he's using his dead dad's voice to make money," please revisit point No. 3).

If Phil Mickelson came out with a commercial that cut up various Earl Woods quotes and pasted them together to make it seem like Earl was saying "You are better then Tiger, Phil" to try to sell a competitive product, then that would be a different story altogether and would warrant all the vitriol and rage that is currently being showered on Tiger.

However, Earl was Tiger's father, and the day I presume to know somebody's deceased father better than they do themselves is the day I check myself into an insane asylum.

If this really was an exploitation of the deceased Earl Woods, I guarantee Tiger wouldn't have agreed to do the spot.

Also, they only used Earl Woods' voice to set up the hypothetical situation of Tiger being cross-examined/reprimanded by his father for his past transgressions, a viewpoint Tiger confirmed when questioned about the spot.

This is an episode every father and son in history has been through many a time.  Anybody who has heard Tiger talk about his maturation would conclude that Earl sitting Tiger down to reprimand him wasn't a rare occurrence either.

Had they used Earl Woods' voice to add "I forgive you Tiger, and so should the rest of the public, and, on that note, everybody should go buy Nike golf clubs," then the spot turns to the thoughtless and shameless consumerism that so many are screaming about today.

However, if Tiger thought the commercial was respectful to the memory of his Dad, and the spot sold me nothing more than Tiger's ability to (possibly) be mentally tough and overcome the greatest mental obstacles he's ever been presented with, I'm fine with it.

5.  Tiger needs more than a commercial to redeem himself in the eyes of the public.

Of course that's true.

But, if Day One of The Masters is any indication, he will.

You see, among sports superstars like Tiger, the combination of winning and time absolutely does cure everything, and we have a plethora of supposedly "fallen" stars that confirm that reality.

Kobe Bryant was on trial for rape.  Regardless of the accuracy of those charges, he was in Colorado doing things with a promiscuous young hotel employee that his marital vows expressly forbid.

Just like Tiger.

A few scoring titles and another championship later, does it really matter?

(Admittedly, Kobe wasn't in commercials five months after the charges, but rape and cheating on your wife are very different things.  But in Kobe's case, I guess they were the same thing.  My head just exploded.  I need to move on.)

Ben Roethlisberger got in a motor cycle accident without wearing a helmet, and was accused of rape/sexual assault by another young lady after winning his first Super Bowl. 

One victory over the Cardinals and a second Super Bowl later, and everybody was willing to forget about the deplorable example he put on for families everywhere.  Of course Roethlisberger is under scrutiny again for sexual assault (with nowhere near the media scrutiny), but that is another article altogether.

These are stories of celebrity redemption that are obviously beaten into the ground but the issue remains: celebrities/athletes have done much worse and are now completely rehabilitated in the public eye.

Why people are viewing this commercial like some sort of instant short cut to public redemption for Tiger Woods is absolutely ridiculous and not worth worrying about.

Put it this way: Tiger winning the Masters by five strokes this weekend will do more for his public image than 38 consecutive commercials containing real footage of Tiger Woods stopping avalanches with his mind and bringing puppies back from the dead.

Anybody who liked Tiger Woods and the Nike products he endorsed has already either stayed on or hopped off the Woods/Nike bandwagon, and a single commercial on the eve of his return to golf isn't going to change that.

Let's be honest with ourselves here.

Most, if not all, women who weren't fans of golf will never be fans of Tiger Woods, and maybe Nike golf, again.

Most, if not all, misogynistic and unscrupulous/unfaithful dudes out there who were already Tiger/Nike golf fans will continue to support Tiger and Nike regardless.

For all of us in between, whether or not we chose to support Nike and Tiger remains an intensely personal decision that will not be completely unhinged or reversed by a single television spot.

Say what you want about Tiger's conduct, his abilities as a husband and a father, or the quality of his soul in general.  Those concerns could not be more irrelevant for the purposes of this article.

What this article is concerned with is the ridiculous outcry surrounding a seemingly innocuous and shockingly personal return to marketing by one of the most iconic sports spokespeople the world has seen since Michael Jordan.

Tiger will regain his fame and reputation on the golf course, or lose it there forever.

Trying to convince me a 15 second Nike commercial is nothing more than a hypnotic short cut circumventing that fact is beyond illogical.

I am not saying I agree with Tiger's personal conduct, but to be honest that's never why I enjoyed watching him play golf in the first place.

What I also don't agree with is writing off a harmless Nike ad as the worst thing ever to disgrace our television and computer screens since "2 Girls 1 Cup."

Tiger parlayed his golf skills into a job as a commercial spokesman, not the other way around.

And if today was any indication, He absolutely Is Still Tiger Woods.  And that's a reputation he earned on the golf course.  Not in the bedroom. 

At least among the circles I run with.

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