Perfect People Don’t Sell Sports: Disgraced Tiger Woods Boosted Nike’s Sales

I can’t believe its already been more than a year since Tiger Woods was “rescued” from his car by his wife armed with a golf club, and went from being every kid’s role model to the scum of the earth. While the memory of the media firestorm is still very fresh, it’s hard to remember what it was like when Tiger was still the hottest product endorser on the market. As we blogged about earlier this year, he quickly became like the plague for brands that once clamored for him — except, of course, for Nike.

That Nike commercial with a somber-looking Tiger in one continuous shot with the haunting voice-over of Tiger’s deceased father is still vivid in my mind. It’s a revolutionary spot that not only acknowledged the controversy but conveyed that while Nike didn’t condone his behavior, they clearly wanted to give him a second chance. It was a huge risk for Nike to go from “Just Do It” to making a moral statement.

At the time, The Cyphers Agency was divided about whether the spot was in good taste and whether this was a good strategy for Nike. Ten months later, the verdict is finally in: standing by Tiger Woods helped Nike’s bottom line. Research published in Ad Age found that Woods’s scandal wasn’t enough for him to lose his value as a highly respected golfer and Nike’s top golf dog. And while it seemed that golf as a whole suffered losses, Nike fared better than others who wouldn’t touch Tiger with a ten-foot-pole.

The reason may lie in the type of marketing Nike took on. Other brands were leveraging Tiger’s positive image, but the warm-and-fuzzy disappeared when the affairs came to light and they had to move on to other positive role models. Nike, however, has always taken a different stance. They’ve always done a great job of positioning their endorsers as fallible human beings who, at the end of the day, just love the game they play. Tiger isn’t the first: think back to Michael Jordan. Look again at LeBron James. In the end, Nike’s brand isn’t about being a perfect person – because, after all, who is? It’s about a passion for doing what you love, and that is something we can all identify with.

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