Today, on the eve of Tiger Woods' long-anticipated return to professional golf at the Augusta Masters, Nike released a television commercial.
The ad, called "Earl and Tiger," uses the recorded voice of Woods' late father questioning his son's judgment, over an image of Tiger looking ashamed. In "On Par," The New York Times' golf blog, Richard Sandomir reports the ad first ran this evening at 6 p.m. Eastern on ESPN, and will run only until tomorrow afternoon.
I think it's awful.
I and I'm sure hundreds of others in the PR industry have blogged at length about the need to get out in front of an issue that is destined to become a PR problem.
Think David Letterman vs. John Edwards. Letterman admitted to his infidelity before it hit the media, and the story was short-lived (and, frankly, was mostly about how well he handled the PR). Edwards denied, ran, denied, hid, denied, mocked the media outlets uncovering the truth, and denied some more before being spectacularly dragged into admitting it, creating a media circus for himself in the process.
"Tell the truth, tell it first, tell it all" is what we say in issues management. It hurts in the short term, but makes for a much longer long term.
Once an issue has been beaten to death and into the afterlife, as the Tiger-Woods-is-a-no-good-philanderer story surely has, you let it go. You move on to your messages.
For Nike, that means you let Tiger be a golfer again.
Sandomir's "On Par" post quotes Bob Dorfman, the executive vice president of Baker Street Advertising, as saying that "Nike had to address, or at least, allude, to Woods’s personal problems. “They’d take a lot of flack if they didn’t,” he said."
Tiger was decked out in what The Guardian's Lawrence Donegan called his "his Nike-branded sackcloth and ashes" at his news conference at Augusta earlier this week, as he addressed reporters' questions about his return to the game as well as the scandal.
Nike's continued sponsorship of Tiger throughout recent months has communicated the company's commitment to Tiger, the golfer. It doesn't need to make any more comment than that.
Woods' return to golf is the opportunity to turn the page, to re-build Tiger's brand as much as is possible. Sure, the media are likely to keep flogging the sex addiction story -- but by now, it's lost its shock value. People are tired of hearing about it. People want to move on; and as soon as the tournament begins, they may just be more interested in how he plays than how humiliated he is.
That's where Nike should be focusing.