Today a TV business pundit asked if the Tiger Woods’ situation had poisoned the spokesman well for everyone.
Unfortunately, I don’t think so.
Many unsophisticated marketers use it because the spokesperson model of advertising is usually an easy way for a company to think they’re doing effective marketing. I’m not suggesting that there aren’t times or situations when it doesn’t work spectacularly well — Nike and Michael Jordan come to mind — but for the most part celebrity spokespeople offer a simple solution that requires little except money.
Generally the combinations of products and spokespersons are as vapid as Joe DiMaggio and Mr. Coffee. I mean, I know his name was Joe and he had been an avid coffee drinker but was that enough reason to believe that he represented a home coffeemaker more effectively than other marketing techniques? Especially when DiMaggio had stopped drinking coffee because of his ulcer?
Joe Namath worked so well for Noxzema NOT because of his specific endorsement but because of the wonderful creative of him shaving his legs (“Take it off. Take it all off”).
So Tiger worked for Nike because he IS the mac daddy of golf (regardless of what he does with his putter). I think he was a less successful spokesman for Gillette unless their target audience is just young guys looking for personal grooming role models. But the one that really baffled me was his work for Accenture. The consulting company spent more than 85% of their marketing dollars promoting the connection and even used the tagline “Be A Tiger” to represent their company (even Nike, as deep in bed as they were with Michael Jordan didn’t use “Be like Mike” as a line for anything other than Michael Jordan-specific merchandise).
I always thought that Accenture backed into the strategy. That is, they believed their audience was predominately golfers who would love the Tiger Woods partnership and so they made their ads about how Tiger’s strategic prowess was the same skill set you need to run a successful business.
It was the same old tired sports metaphor we see over and over. How many banks have shown teams crewing, bike riding or running track to talk about persistence and effort? How many show football players to talk about teamwork? How about gymnasts to talk about flexibility and strength? The work Accenture did with Tiger was just a higher-quality rehash of those motivational posters of fighter jets and soaring eagles you see hanging on people’s office walls.
Formulaic solutions won’t go away just because one experience turned out badly, no matter how big the train wreck. Instead the technique will be less favored for a while and then come roaring back (like a Tiger I’m tempted to say).