There's something hypnotic and downright intoxicating about watching this fuzzy footage of Tiger Woods as a 5-year-old golfer. In the videotape, he's a perfect miniature of the phenom we know now—same smile, same swing, same preternatural self-possession—just in tiny form.
We recognize this focused and determined little person—with obvious star quality—instantly. And that made me wonder, if we could all see a videotape recorded at the time we were 5, would we so easily identify ourselves?
But, before I get lost in thoughts of human nature and the time and space continuum, let me explain that this latest spot for Nike Golf juxtaposes the compact form of Li'l Man Woods into the endless green landscape of the Big British Open at the Old Course in St. Andrews, Scotland. And the result is, I dare say, seamless and brilliant.
OK, OK, before you start griping about how simple it would be to do a great spot with a star like Tiger and a client like Nike, I'll just say that pulling off a job that comes off as this easy and effortless, but at the same time seems magical, is pretty damn hard.
Just the idea of placing such a tiny figure in a big, ancient, scary, Hogwartsian place like St. Andrews immediately fires the imagination. It's a very literary conceit: From Gulliver's Travels to Alice in Wonderland, small people were sent into scary adult worlds. It also plays with the time and space continuum, like Superman comics. Or maybe it's just like a bad dream ("I have to play the British Open, and I'm only in kindergarten!"). Instead, this is more about watching L'il Tiger's absolute, natural, organic joy in playing golf as a kid. The spot cuts to shots of his understandably proud father and mother—but we all know that this will not turn out to be a Michael Jackson story. Both parents played roles in making him the healthy, functioning master of the universe that he is today.
And certainly, as he worked on his new swing for the last year and a half and endured a losing streak, Tiger's taken a lot of guff. There have been many detractors, and competitors have criticized him as well as his Swedish wife for marrying him and taking his powers away.
After he won the British Open, the Zen Master said, "No matter how good you get, you can always get better," which gives hope to everyone. (It's especially meaningful that Tiger's hero, Jack Nicklaus, also won two British Opens and played his last competitive round in a major there.)
But this is a celebration of the transcendent power of Tiger—so human and universal that people who know nothin' about golf can feel it.
For starters, some of the humanity of the spot comes from just under-doing it. No film was shot—sometimes it's hard for creatives to take their hands off the wheel, but in this case, second-and-third generation videotape of Tiger was taken from three different TV pieces he'd done with local news stations, and some of it was lousy quality; the St. Andrews portion was shot in 1998. But the fuzz actually works to the spot's advantage—it conveys a ghost like presence, a flashback, or merely the fog that we usually associate with Scotland. (And the editing and CGI is top-notch.) The music, "Ooh La La" by Ron Wood, Ronnie Lane and Rod Stewart back in the day of The Faces, has already been used in a Mitsubishi spot and a Wes Anderson film, but it's a perfect extension of the wistful message: "I wish that I knew what I know now, when I was younger/I wish that I knew what I know now, when I was stronger."
Playing with time and memory is very powerful, but it can also be done very badly. (Think of all the spots that use fake, sped-up old movies, and faux pregnancy bellies, etc.) And fooling around with computer graphics can be fun, but it can also come off as too gimmicky. Certainly, the spot that showed all the Nike athletes switching sports—Lance Armstrong as a boxer, for example—was interesting, but had nowhere near the emotional impact of this baby Tiger.
The ad's done so well that in the first few moments, we really do have to suspend disbelief. We hear Peter Aliss, the voice of the British Open—talking about Tiger using a 3 wood. In some shots, the little boy seems like a looming figure, and the world's oldest golf course, with its ancient buildings and ancient mounds in the distance, is also recognizable. But with the flow of the music and the shots of this incredible kid chipping, putting, driving, doing his Tiger dance and smiling, we get the idea of the passage of time.
The teary-eyed clincher is the final image before the swoosh: a shot of the grown Tiger hugging his Dad, who is now very ill.
A spot that easily could have been forced and pretentious is sweet and meaningful. What does it sell? Well, right before our eyes, Nike has branded America's home movies.
Wieden + Kennedy, Portland, Ore.
Joint Editorial, Portland, Ore.
A52, Los Angeles
Ron wood, Rod Stewart, Ron Lane of The Faces