The Death Of Tiger’s ‘Perfect’ Aura

Steve Murray
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Wednesday - December 16, 2009
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In happier times, Tiger Woods shares one of his many trophies with kids from his foundation and learning center

A few weeks ago when news first circulated that Tiger Woods may have strayed from his marital vows, it seems certain that the backlash from sponsors and the general public would be minimal if not completely nonexistent. With each passing day and with each tawdry revelation, however, his ability to properly represent those corporations, with which his public image is so closely tied, gets considerably weaker.

The effect of his worst weeks ever has already started to show. According to Nielson surveys, Woods has been noticeably absent in the days since his perfectly polished image came crashing to Earth. The television ratings company reported that Woods has not been featured in a primetime national ad since Nov. 29, two days after his now-infamous crash, when he appeared in a Gillette ad on Football Night in America.

Woods’golf sponsor is in a good position to ride out the storm of bad publicity. Nike’s advertising depends on Woods being victorious. As long as he wins, and we’ve seen nothing to suggest he won’t continue his dominance, he’ll be a popular draw on tour and an effective spokesman for its products. For his many other endorsers, the association is much trickier. A company’s public image is crucial, and in tough economic times manufacturers can’t afford to be a part of late-night punchlines.

From Nov. 27 to Dec. 7, Nielson IAG recorded more than 20 instances where a late-night comedian joked about Woods while linking him to a sponsor. According to nielsonwire, such associations resulted in a higher-than-normal brand recall, much of it negative. Their research said about 6 percent of late-night viewers report a negative opinion when recalling a brand but that number jumped to 11 percent with the connection to Woods.

The salacious tales of rough sex, explicit text messages and affairs in his home while the wife was away also have changed the context of recent Internet chatter - which also can affect his likability and, therefore, his marketability. Nielson also reported its Buzzmetrics

Brand Association Map analyzed chit-chat online and found that the common words associated with Woods were “great,” “good” and “best.” But in the first 10 days of December, “voice mail,” “mistress” and “affair” had outranked any positive or neutral adjectives.

While it seems that advertising fallout is bound to occur at least temporarily, the biggest loser in this mess could be his foundation and learning center. The 35,000-square-foot tech educational facility in Anaheim, Calif., has been lauded for its effort to begin career education for children as young as 10 in the areas of math, science, technology and language arts. The Web site says, “The Tiger Woods Learning Center is here to get students thinking about the role education plays in their futures.” The next question for Woods and the school to which he’s truly committed: how to get sponsors and parents thinking postively about the role Woods will play in the students’future. Whether some, all or none of the sordid tales are proven true, perception is reality, and while rampant sexual promiscuity can be brushed off when talking about shaving devices, it becomes a much stickier situation when children are involved. Woods’ foundation is scheduled to build another learning center in D.C., and though no word has been uttered to suggest those plans have changed or have been stalled, it is likely he won’t find the same level of Capital Hill support if reports prove true that he spent $60,000 on high-priced prostitutes for daylong booze and sex benders, as reported by the New York Post. Then again, maybe he will.

Perhaps the greatest testament to his fall of late comes from his once deferring colleagues. For more than a decade, no one on tour has dared criticize Woods. Tiger has been popular in the locker room and players appreciate the meteoric rise in prize money since he joined the tour. However, his friendship can suddenly and totally disappear if he even thinks someone has disrespected him or failed to honor his trust. Nick Faldo was shut out after making a fair - and accurate - comment about Woods’ swing while working as a commentator at the Buick Invitational in 2004. The two were virtual strangers until paired at the

2006 Open Championship, and it became, according to Faldo, “water under the bridge, with a few trout.”

Jasper Parnevik, for whom Tiger’s wife, Elin, worked as a nanny, has already come out against Woods. Now Ben Crane is staring to feel his oats. quoted the 49th ranked golfer calling Woods a “phony and a fake” and that the scandal “is no surprise to anyone who knows Tiger.”

He’s likely not to be the last.

As seedy as the whole affair has been, Woods marketability can, and will, recover. A quick patch-up with his wife will go a long way in speeding up the process. Word has it the two are in talks to stay together and to rework their prenup.

And don’t discount the importance of Oprah. Getting softballed on her couch won’t offer much information, since every question will be pre-screened by Woods’ legal team, but it will go a long way in patching up his image with the lapdogs who bow to every word that comes from her mouth.

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