Tiger Woods: Product pitchman in trouble

According to the Wall Street Journal, Tiger Woods had appeared in ads for Accenture in 27 countries.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Tiger Woods had appeared in ads for Accenture in 27 countries. (Chris Carlson/Associated Press)
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Al DiGuido
Chief Executive, Zeta Interactive
Monday, December 14, 2009; 2:00 PM

More than four in 10 Americans now hold an unfavorable view of Tiger Woods, and nearly as many say companies should steer clear of using the golf great as a product pitchman, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Washington Post/ABC News Poll.

Al DiGuido, chief executive of Zeta Interactive, a digital ad agency, was online Monday, Dec. 14, at 2 p.m. ET to discuss Tiger Woods and the effect the scandal is having on his commercial endorsements.

In an e-mail interview with The Washington Post, DiGuido said, "It's not surprising to see brands begin to disassociate themselves from Tiger, as his image has been seriously tarnished from the events over the past two weeks. Brands associate with personalities because of their aspirational association with consumer. Any endorsement associated with Tiger Woods is tainted right now. Brands don't want to lose their luster by being closely tied with another brand for whom public perception has become overwhelmingly negative. It's not about personal opinion over what has occurred, it's strictly business and marketing."


Al DiGuido: Hi...Al DiGuido; CEO of Zeta Interactive here...Topic today is Tiger Woods and the impact of the latest news on his brand and sponsors


Stamford, Conn.: Tiger Woods has been the main drawing card for the PGA. When Tiger returns to the tour, do you think that the TV promos for the tournament will include Tiger? And if so, do you think that viewers will react negatively to that?

Al DiGuido: Based on the current buzz that Tiger is experiencing..and the level of negative consumer attitudes towards his brand I believe that sponsors will be very reserved before embracing him. We can't predict what moves Tiger will make during his time away from golf to repair the negativity around his brand. Based on those actions...consumers will then assess whether his brand image has been repaired or not.


Baltimore, Md.: I've spent some 30 years in advertising and PR. So when people would tell me, "This is a private matter, it's nobody's business," I would have to tell them, "Look, Woods isn't a human being -- he's a world renowned brand." And I would list his brand attributes -- fierce concentration and a take no prisoners approach to golf, coupled with a clean-cut, father of two, straight shooter personal life. When Woods was revealed, in fact, as a Las Vegas loving playboy, it was equivalent to a major soft drink shipping a production lot full of ground glass -- and finding out that the company did it on purpose. I frankly think that, with major advertisers, Woods is done as an endorser for good and all.

Al DiGuido: A lot will depend on the moves that Tiger makes in the coming weeks and months to repair his brand image. Tiger has had tremendous appeal within his sport. Up until now..his name and image associated with a brand provided significant impact and revenues to those brands. There is little doubt from our Zeta Buzz data...that the events that have transpired continue to damage his brand reputation. Again..much work must be done by Tiger and his associates to repair this damage. I don't think that he is "done."


washingtonpost.com: Video: Tiger Woods's Caddie on Tiger Woods (AP)


Gaithersburg, Md.: Happy Holidays!

In my opinion, Tiger, Tiger's 'people' (whomever those sycophants are) and Tiger's sponsors should forget about Tiger being a pitchman of a lifestyle (i.e. the car he drives, the watch he wears, etc.) Nobody wants to be a Tiger these days (pun). However, on the golf course, people still want to play like Tiger. Therefore, I don't think his golf-specific sponsor support will waver much. Golfers know who #1 is, regardless of how he behaves in his personal life. After this is no longer front page news and Tiger goes on the 'forgive me please tour' with Oprah, etc., then perhaps non-golf sponsors latch back on. People like it when their heros get up from a fall. If he gets up and shines, do you think that we could see even MORE ads with Tiger in them (if that is possible)?

Al DiGuido: The power of the Tiger brand has transcended golf. Tiger has stood for determination, integrity, honesty and excellence. Many brands want this type of association as it serves to inspire consumers to associate with related brands. As I have said earlier...the next shots that Tiger takes are all within his power. Thus far the tactics that have been used...have not done anything to stem the tide of negative buzz. We haven't seen any moves yet from a PR standpoint that have swung the public in his direction. The postings on his website have not moved public opinion in his direction. There is a lot of hard work ahead before we can even think about him as a "fallen" hero that is turning his life around. If he makes the right moves and enough time goes by...we might see a resurgence of Tiger.


Annandale, Va.: I'm sorry if this question is a bit simple-minded. Tiger's sell was based on a picture-perfect, pristine image. It's gone for good. So can simply being one of the greatest athletes in the world do the trick in bringing people to the cashier, so to speak?

Al DiGuido: Being the best player in the world is worth a lot within your sport. Tiger's image and appeal transcended his sport.

His sponsors transcended the world of golf. They used the golf metaphor to associate quality, integrity, excellence with their brands. It is that association that is now lost.

Consumers are still going to purchase golf equipment. The challenge is with other products and services; business consulting, watches, cars..etc..where the brand association was much more aspirational. If Tiger resurrects his brand through a series of moves (that as of this writing he hasn't done)...there is a chance in time that some associations may return. So far...we haven't seen anything on the horizon that indicates that these relationships will be coming back soon.


Locust Grove, Va.: How do you judge that a scandal hurts a products image? Only on gross? Or something else? I don't buy products due to endorsements, rather Consumer Reports!

Al DiGuido: We have been monitoring the Tiger Woods brand and the brand image of products that have been endorsed by Tiger throughout the period of this news. Our Zeta Buzz product measures activity on over 100 million blogs on a daily basis. People like you and I that post our thoughts and observations online. By analyzing this data in real time we can watch the tone (positive or negative) on brands. For example..during the scandal period; Brands like Gatorade went from 84% positive to 39% positive in just 2 weeks. Gillette went from 85 % positive to 64 % during the same time. Most of Tiger's sponsors are seeing this level of hit on brand image and buzz. Nike has seen the lowest differential between positive and negative..only slipping 2 % since the scandal broke. Consumers posting negative comments in the volume that they have been...will most definitely impact the cash register.


New York, NYC: Can Tiger Woods's reputation ever be repaired?

Al DiGuido: A lot depends on the moves that Tiger makes moving forward. We haven't seen anything yet that leads us to believe that the negative buzz has it bottom. On 11/29 Tiger Woods had a 91% positive ranking...As of today 12/14...the positive ranking is at 40%. The sharpest decline in the shortest period of time...we have ever seen.


Orlando, Fla.: Celebrity scandals are nothing new, especially when it comes to sports. Just give this time. Tiger will be back, maybe a little bruised for a while, maybe one or two sponsors short. But he'll be back. Just look at Michael Vick. If he can come back, anyone can.

Al DiGuido: I think that you are underestimating the damage done to his brand. There is much work to be done before we can think about his brand being repaired. This is not one of those cases where silence is golden and time heals all wounds. Last time I checked...Michael Vick hasn't signed any big sponsorship deals


New Jersey: A few years ago, I worked for one of Mr. Woods's sponsors, and I saw how willing, even eager, our executives were to bend just about any corporate policy (or worse) just so they could be around him at events. Profitability of the sponsorship had nothing to do with it. How much does that have to do with the apparent reticence of some sponsors to ditch him?

Al DiGuido: You make a good point here. Sponsors associate with public figures to attract an audience with an affinity/like of that figure. That affinity and/or loyalty transfers to the cash register. Many brands have built significant portions of THEIR brand image around the Tiger Association. Accenture's Go Be a Tiger...is a case in point. Brands stay with public figures because they have great return on these investments. They have the documentation to show that a logo bearing golfer turns into huge incremental unit sales of their product. Lose the public figure..lose the opportunity to drive sales. Pre scandal...ALL of Tiger's brands were experiencing significant positive buzz around their products as a result of their association..so the strategy was working and definitely driving sales. Now..they are all watching their brand association tainted and monitoring sales to see how deep the problem


Austin, Tex.: Do you think Tiger should make a personal appearance and express his sorrow for what he has done? Would that have a positive or negative impact at this point?

Al DiGuido: From a buzz standpoint...I would think that almost anything would be better to try to stem the tide of negativity here. So far...what has been done hasn't been able to change the direction of public opinion and/or the story. Silence is not working.


Englewoods Cliffs, N.J.: Isn't the whole concept of "role model" obsolete? Why do we continue to try to put athletes/celebrities/and even political figures on such a high pedestal? Why is it such a big deal for noted public figures to have such a clean cut image? I don't think sponsors should be dropping Tiger purely due to his personal life. If his ability drops, then fine, but otherwise..why do we care so much?

Al DiGuido: Let's be clear...Sponsors associate with public figures to drive awareness and sales of their products. When Tiger endorses a product...his brand identity transfers to the endorsed product. Those who respect Tiger follow his lead and purchase endorsed products and services. With the consumer buzz being as negative as it is today..Consumers are disassociating themselves with this brand. What was positive is now negative. As such..an association with a brand where consumers are showing their displeasure in such veracity and volume..will most definitely impact sales and profits for an extended time period.


Lynchburg, Va.: Good Afternoon Mr. DiGuido,

When Tiger Woods returns to the golf course, a media swarm will ensue. How closely will potential sponsors be watching his first few tournaments and press conferences?

Al DiGuido: Sponsors are going to be watching consumer attitude and buzz more than golf scores. Should Tiger repair his image and regain his standing amongst consumers...I think that sponsors may return...slowly. There is also a potential that other athletes...golfers could step in and fill this sponsor void with incremental endorsements.


Washington, D.C.: Does any athlete and/or sponsor stand to profit from Tiger's misfortune?

Al DiGuido: Interesting question...we have been watching brands endorsed by Phil Mickelson. During this scandal period...brands endorsed by Phil; the likes of Callaway have seen an uptick in positive buzz, going from 78% positive to 89% positive. Rolex...a Mickelson sponsor has experienced an 8% increase in positive buzz during this same period.


Anonymous: How should the PGA weigh-in on all of this to protect their brand and sales?

Al DiGuido: Very good point...we are in the midst of pulling that data right now. Should have that information shortly. Tiger has been a major drawing card for the PGA. He has been the worlds most identifiable representative of the game. I think that the PGA must be planning their overall strategy to retain the excellence, reputation and standards of their product image. Stay tuned...we will have this data shortly.


Al DiGuido: Zeta Interactive continues to monitor the Tiger Woods brand buzz as well as related sponsor brands. Here's the latest on the Accenture Brand. Pre Scandal 77% positive/23% negative. As of 12/12 - 71% positive/29% negative. Interestingly enough..since announcing their dropping of Tiger Woods...the brand has seen an incredible jump in overall volume of posts and positive ranking..posts are up 1350% and positive ranking is over 84%. According to our data...Accenture has made the right move


Al DiGuido: Thanks for all of the great questions. Obviously we will continue to monitor the buzz around this and many other stories in the world today. Have a great day.

Al DiGuido - Zeta Interactive - Zeta Interactive.


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