As a packager of celebrity talent for endorsements, the revelations about Tiger Woods have obviously been of keen interest. And my prediction for Woods? Not good.
A week ago, I prepared this column several days before any of Tiger’s sponsors evaporated, and I predicted that most or all of his sponsors would distance themselves quickly from Woods.
I even included in the article a tongue-in-cheek top 10 list of the excuses each sponsor would offer to the public. In the following days, sponsors indeed went south. Several quoted right from my top 10 list of clever excuses to use while doing the corporate “we’re outta here” tap dance with their PR firm on one phone line and their attorneys on the other.
Now additional observations come forth, from which all advertisers can learn lessons. Gillette stated it would pull commercials to respect Tiger’s desire for privacy. We got the idea, although its statement was weak and obviously illogical. Accenture had more guts and candor, basically saying, “Hey, this guy no longer represents our image. . . . Our best to him and his family, and adios.” Which company do you think looks better?
It would seem that adultery is still regarded as a no-no of biblical proportions. In Proverbs, wise Solomon observed that he who commits adultery “endures wounds and dishonor” and that the “shame of adultery is never wiped away.” Apparently, Solomon had television in the palace and knew of Gary Hart and Frank Gifford.
Americans are in fact, forgiving. Think Michael Vick. A few winning years, some commercials for the ASPCA, some talk show gut spilling, some reinvention . . . and he could be back in the groove.
But something about adultery does seem to stick. Over the course of the coming weeks and months I think you will see all of Woods’ commercials, print ads and sponsors disappear. Some will take longer, like Nike, which is intricately tied in with Tiger products and co-promotions.
What are some of the lessons advertisers can take away from this situation?
1. Americans are not the perversity-loving degenerates that mainstream media fare would portray. Family values, respecting other persons and individual honor may not be the plotline in most TV shows or movies, but it is how most Americans strive to live, and what they look for in companies and products.
2. Using celebrities is effective and makes business sense. Just make sure you always have a plan B in mind — just in case.
3. Your attorney might advise you to have over-the-top morals clauses in your celebrity agreements, but generally this won’t work. Clauses that allow for contract dissolution due to committing merely “immoral” acts (as opposed to illegal acts) usually don’t fly with spokespeople. Instead, go for shorter-term agreements with options, rather than long-term associations. If your mega-star talent will only sign long-term agreements, then insist on some tweaking of the morals clause; cite your “Tiger Woods’ concerns.”
4. Don’t panic if your spokesperson gets into trouble. No consumer really blames you or your product. No one will stop shaving with Gillette products because of Woods, although Tiger Woods sportswear may not exactly be a big seller for a few decades.
5. Don’t be afraid of the truth. In the rare circumstance that your spokesperson becomes an embarrassment, say so, nicely. The truth shall set you free.
A lot of people will suffer because of Woods’ transgressions. His agents will lose $10 million or so a year in commissions. His annual income will probably drop $100 million, give or take, and his yacht and a lot of other real estate and toys will be sold. The yacht’s captain and crew, people supporting families, will be out of work. Thousands of kids who benefit from Wood’s foundation will be without support. Pro golfers and others dependent upon the game will earn less as TV viewership plunges and the sport steps back a decade or two to when only golfers cared about golf.