Now that Tiger Woods has regained the top ranking on the pro golf tour, Nike is celebrating its star endorser's comeback with an online ad emblazoned with one of Woods's favorite soundbites, "Winning takes care of everything," along with the word "Victory" next to the company's swoosh logo. The ad has stoked the flames of controversy in social media, with some claiming it sends a bad message in light of Woods's marital infidelities that surfaced a few years back, costing him some endorsement deals, tarnishing his image and threatening to derail his career—not to mention crushing the marriage in question.
There are hundreds of press reports about the ad and countless tweets and comments, all manner of Internet chatter, folks expressing opinions pro and con. Much of the coverage has focused on what impact the ad will have on Nike's brand. That's a fair question, but as anyone who's followed marketing for more than 10 minutes should realize, it's answered almost as soon as it's asked. This is a blip that quickly stirs passions but has no lasting effect. By next week it will be all but forgotten. Nike and Tiger will carry on. (They been here before, of course, when Nike released that rather peculiar Tiger ad following the scandal.)
In a larger and more intriguing sense, the story is a microcosm of the state and price of fame in the digital media landscape. If you start winning in the public eye and achieve some notoriety, you'd better take care and be on your guard about everything, because legions are eagerly watching and waiting and we'll pounce at the slightest provocation. This says a lot less about Woods, Lance Armstrong or other tarnished icons than it does about the rest of us, who live vicariously to varying degrees through such "heroes and villains." Most of us will never experience the life-changing thrill ride of winning and losing on a grand scale, because for whatever reason, we can't commit our whole beings to daunting tasks, athletic or otherwise, and fight through the pain, injury and public pressure to victory. Hell, most of us will never truly win or lose at anything.
So, we cheer on Woods, Armstrong and the rest when they triumph, and weep at their defeats. We damn them when they fall from grace and welcome them back with accolades and big-bucks sponsorships when they've reformed enough for our liking.
In this way, such imbalanced relationships become symbiotic and reciprocal. Tiger and Lance play out high-def dramas with, at times, their careers and livelihoods on the line. We play along on our sofas, remotes in hand, flipping among our thousand channels. Social media intensifies and personalizes the experience. We become actors in their story—mostly in our own minds, of course, but in increasingly more palpable ways than ever before—as commentators and commenters, bloggers, tweeters and pinners. Our input flickers across PC desktops and smartphone screens, shared in real time with thousands, maybe millions, all eager to feel more deeply and understand—if only briefly, and through the exploits of others—what words like winning and everything really mean.