From the corporate files of Eerie McCreepster: I know Nike did what it had to do for Tiger, but who ever thought the agency would have the nerve to play the Dead Daddy card? Did the Wieden + Kennedy creatives hold their noses when they summoned Earl Woods from the grave?
“Tiger, I am more prone to be inquisitive, to promote discussion,” Earl says in this already revered and reviled (depending on how you feel about Tiger) spot, which broke just ahead of his wounded son’s return to golf at the Masters. “I want to find out what your thinking was. I want to find out what your feelings are. And did you learn anything?”
And indeed, to quote Earl’s odd syntax in his opener, the spot certainly “promotes discussion” without asking much from Tiger himself — no questions from the press, no chance of Nixonian sweat over his lip. He is rehabilitated wordlessly. He receives absolution and exoneration from the Church of the Holy Swoosh.
It’s powerful, but it’s also polarizing, and it raises more questions than it answers.
First of all, who’s Tiger’s daddy? Is it Earl, the guy who made him a champion but had his own feet of clay? Or is it Nike, the corporate daddy that has so much riding on him?
Obviously, with its whole golf division reeling during Woods’ absence, Nike feels that Tiger, like a major bank on Wall Street, is too big to fail. So, they need to bail him out somehow, to divert the attention away from the scandal and to move on to the game.
So, “Earl and Tiger” is like a palate cleanser — meant to banish any lingering bad taste from the public’s mouth — that allows Nike to get on with the business of selling hats, pants, jackets, shoes, balls, clubs, etc.
But here’s the rub: Not only did Nike have to address the sex scandal, but it also had to find content for the ad that would seem as abstract and oblique as possible. It had to show that Woods was chastened. But as a corporate entity and implicit advocate, Nike couldn’t be the one doing the scolding. Any sort of punitive move, calling the guy into question, had to come from a real parent.
So, they pulled out old audio of the old man. But in those four sentences, which are vague enough to seem applicable to the scandal his son finds himself in, Daddy Earl makes things seem even creepier. While speaking from some warp in time, he sounds analytical, not lashing out or yelling or telling the kid he’s an idiot, but rather, calmly and like a Buddhist, asking if he’s learned anything.
Tiger stands there in what appears to be purgatory, looking mournful and guilty as hell. (Are we supposed to feel sorry for him?) But in the end, Nike, in loco parentis, lets its star off easy, with a “This hurts me more than it hurts you” kind of punishment. In effect, the ad simply says: Go stand in the corner and think about what you have done.
Some see the setup as Tiger just thinking about his dad, summoning his voice inside his head, which would make the use of the audio seem less exploitative and tasteless than it appears on the surface. What’s more tasteless, however, is the idea that his dad is some sort of role model. While he fashioned Tiger into the superstar he is, Earl was no paragon of marital fidelity himself.
So, going to that shocking place of resurrecting Earl hardly adds credibility and, even worse, it opens up a whole new can of worms. “I want to find out what your thinking was,” says Earl. To which Tiger might reply, like the screaming teen from the anti-drug PSA: “I learned it from you, OK?!”
There’s a reverence for fathers in sports culture, especially those who teach their sons to be champions. Every father dreams of cultivating a little Tiger in his own family. And this is actually Earl’s second posthumous appearance in a Nike ad. After his death four years ago, Nike created a spot using Woods family photos and home movies that showed father and mini-Tiger fooling around on and off the links.
In that spot, the pictures of the two of them together are emotional, iconic and stirring. By comparison, the new spot is a bit shocking and grotesque.
The bottom line is that viewership and attendance for golf were way down without Tiger, and it wasn’t only his sponsors but the PGA that needed him back. There’s no doubt that golf people are pumped about his return. And love him or hate him, they watched him at the Masters.
Penitence schmenitence. All it takes is 30 seconds in artfully washed-out, fogged-up purgatory, where all he had to do was look sad and blink. With that bit of history behind him, Tiger just has to start winning, and he’ll be a god again.
See also: Barbara discusses Tiger’s ad on CBS News’ The Early Show.