Tiger Woods: A brand in crisis!

Tiger Woods is a brand in crisis.

This is clearly a case where a brand’s image has been dragged through the mud.  This is a direct result of non-marketing related activities by it’s spokesperson, a 33-year-old man who has licensed the Tiger Woods name and likeness.

As consumers and business partners learn more about the activities of the Tiger Woods spokesperson, they are backing way from a close association or desire to personally identify with the Tiger Woods brand.  Gillette and AT&T are limiting their use of Tiger Woods, which may be a polite way of saying that they will be canceling their contracts.  (Note, at the NY Daily News link you can see a full photo essay).  This directly threatens the $110 million annual revenue  of the Tiger Woods brand.

It was recently announced that the Tiger Woods brand would be taking an “indefinite break” from professional golf, which is the main image building activity of the brand.  As Jon Stewart observed, the problem that Tiger Woods is facing isn’t about golf.

This appears to be a clear case of what Professor Michael Wells has called “moral avoidance” in his recent work on Brand Avoidance.  (see my previous post).

I have been trying to get through to the Tiger Woods brand manager to suggest a brand strategy.  However, there have been reports that the current brand manager, Elin Woods, has resigned the position and will leave after the crucial holiday shopping season.  This will only add to the Tiger Woods brand crisis.  In the meantime, I will outline an appropriate branding strategy in this and the next post.

The first four steps:

1. Assess the situation.  Many brand managers might make the simple, and understandable, error of thinking that Tiger Woods is an actual person.   That error might lead them to say that Tiger Woods is entitled to his personal privacy while he deals with the issues that have damaged the brand reputation.  The brand manager needs to recognize that this is wrong. The spokesman who has licensed the brand’s  trademarked name and likeness (aka visual identity) should not be confused with the Tiger Woods brand.  They are separate and need to be dealt with separately.

The brand manager must do a SWOT analysis: Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats.  Clearly the Threats are extremely important to a brand in crisis.  This means undertaking a full assessment  of the situation by having the spokesperson being candid with the brand manager of all activities not previously made public that may also influence the Tiger Woods brand image. For the moment these should be considered “trade secrets.”  However, without a legally binding non-disclosure agreement, these trade secrets will soon be publicized.

This is not time for the brand manager to penalize the spokesperson for violating the brand guidelines and license agreements.

It is a time for 2 to 3 brand training workshops to reinforce the 5 elements (as outlined in Narrative Branding(R)) of the Tiger Woods brand story: a) Relationship of the Tiger Woods brand with key audiences, b) Verbal brand story including the backstory of how the brand was born and came to world prominence, c) Visual story including the visual metaphors for the brand such as golf clubs, color palette of clothing, d) Branded behaviors, actions and activities that define the Tiger Woods brand, including performance on and off the putting green and e) the customer journey of when consumers come into contact with the Tiger Woods brand and how the brand story unfolds over time.

2. Monitor the impact on brand image.  Conduct a series of surveys over the next 6 weeks to understand the image shifts in the Tiger Woods brand.  It is particularly important that the study have an visual image  association similar to the ZMET methodology.  This will get at the deeper mental structures of how people are relating to the narrative of the Tiger Woods brand.

3. Put a new narrative into the marketplace. Avoid the popular “no comment” strategy.  Silence is never a good strategy when your brand is in crisis.  The newest chapter in the Tiger Woods brand story is being written by media commentators, such as Jon Stewart, Saturday Night Live, as well as bloggers around the world.  A good brand will have an emergency plan in preparation for such a moment.  It is time to dust that plan off, adjust it to the current situation and get it out there through PR, Twitter, Facebook, blogs and other media, both traditional and digital.  This is particularly important if the assessment from step 1 uncovers other unreported actions or behaviors by the spokesperson who has licensed the Tiger Woods brand name and likeness.  The best strategy is to act as if it is inevitable that the other trade secrets of the brand will be revealed to the public.

4. Benchmark best-practices of brand damage control: Distill the most effective strategic and tactical responses from other brands that have gone through a similar crisis.  Some of the cases to consider are Tylenol, Bill Clinton, Jack-in-the-Box and Nike.  All of these brands had their images impeached and were able to find redemption and restore brand value.

The next post will include an brand strategy for shifting the narrative trajectory of the Tiger Woods brand, as well as a roadmap for brand redemption.

1 Response to “Tiger Woods: A brand in crisis!”

  1. 1 Mark Smitty December 14, 2009 at 12:48 am

    You know I don’t understand what some of his sponsors are thinking… If anything Tiger is more popular now than he ever as merely a pro-golfer (ok… the greatest golfer of all-time). But seriously, if I could afford to hire Tiger to be my spokesperson, I would! 🙂

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