Tiger Woods gets way under our skin in new TV commercial for Nike.

April 9, 2010

Fallen hero or Everyman?

Jeremy Mullman from AdAge called me today asking my opinion on the blazingly radioactive new Nike spot, featuring Tiger Woods. Or should I say the new Tiger Woods spot featuring Nike?

You know the film. I don’t even have to link it. Tiger stares into the camera as his deceased father’s words play over him. Dad is saying something about an inquisitive nature. He asks, eerily: What were you thinking? And that’s more or less it.

But man oh man, has ‘it’ lit up the blogosphere. Everyone is talking about this commercial. The trades. News outlets. Even the drive time jocks I listen to on my way home from work played it. They played a TV spot on the radio! Talk about viral. Talk about integration.

And that is why this TVC is perhaps the most potent ad-like object I’ve seen, heard –dare I say experienced- in a long, long time. Not since Crispin, Porter & Bogusky introduced us to the homoerotic and creepy Burger King have we experienced a TVC with so much daring.

My first reaction to it was “Wow.” Then “WTF?” I was creeped out and impressed in equal measures. I told Jeremy what a lot of people told/ tweeted/ wrote a lot of other people: I don’t know whether to love it or hate it.

And that, my friends, is the definition of provocative. It not only makes you think about Tiger Woods, it makes you think about everything: sex, morals, race, sports, integrity, death, advertising, pop culture and, yes, maybe even Nike.

There is no category at Cannes for something like this. Otherwise it would win. Have to. But “30-second TVC” does not do it justice. If anything this thing functions more like a documentary, a snapshot of our culture as it is right now, for better and for worse.

Laurence Holmes from The Score asked his listeners if seeing Tiger this way, as a flawed man, actually makes him more real, as opposed to the robotic golfer we’d come to know. The answer is unequivocally, yes.

Despite his gambling and womanizing, Michael Jordan has remained a legend. As have Babe Ruth and Mohammed Ali. Tiger was on that pedestal. But not anymore. Win or lose, Tiger has now become part of the human race. He is like your brother-in-law who fucked up his marriage by screwing his secretary. He is like you for lying about Vegas. He is like a lot of us, which means he is…likable.

I know it sounds perverse. Here’s a guy who cheated and lied and let us all down. But having fallen, he is getting back up. Or something. Who really knows?

But one thing is for sure, whereas before I admired, respected and envied Tiger Woods; now I can like him because he is, after all, no better than me.

Nike and Wieden & Kennedy made their considerable reputation by making Gods out of athletes. Now they have done one better. They have shown us God in our own image. It’s not pretty but it’s real.

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36 Responses to “Tiger Woods gets way under our skin in new TV commercial for Nike.”

  1. adchick said

    Yeah, well, it didn’t sell me any shoes. In fact, it didn’t do anything for me ….as a consumer or an ad person. I have no idea why they would waste their money and my time on a message that sells nothing. I’m not artsy enough, I suppose.

    • SRP said

      This may be the spot’s mortal sin. But I don’t care. I wish I did it (not the sin; the spot!)

      • Tiger Woods is human, but unlike many of us. I value love, family, marriage, and committment in a way which would not allow me to be unfaithful. Many people do not make the choices Tiger has made nor can we openly accept them. However, I think we will welcome the return of a hero. Our memories can be easily erased by a win at the Master’s. Then, I think the advertisers will start courting Wood’s again. It is driven by the overall response to him – the almighty consumers/customers/clients. You are the advertising gurus. What do you think about my comment?

  2. Tad DeWree said

    The spot is sleazy. When you produce masterpieces like “let me play sports” which poetically weave truth with genuine emotion, the Earl Woods voice from the grave
    Idea is a greater offense that Tiger’s behavior.

    I think he’s still going to come out better than ever. I’m not sure there’s a single red-blooded male that doesn’t envy the power, skill and sexual empowerment superstar status grant athletes at that level.

    Sadly it may work in his favor. Now when Tiger endorses a product there will be a reality to it. Before it was simply a halo effect of his packaging.

    The spot turns my stomach. it might have been better to use the infamous wedge-ball bounce footage , have that ball fall off and have Tiger say to camera… Hey, nobody”s perfect. Cut to Tiger riding off to the sunset with an unidentified female passenger.

    Hype is always better than hypocrisy.

    Another great topic, Stefan.

  3. tracy said

    I’m sorry. Was this spot for the benefit of Nike’s brand… or Tiger’s?

    Here’s the difference between Tiger and the idiot brother-in-law, the BIL’s indiscretions (and your trip to Vegas) aren’t continually being thrown in the public’s — and the family’s — face via the news media, ad agencies and PR firms.

    Do we not know when to be quiet? Behave with a certain modicum of grace under difficult circumstances? A recent sermon on PR, in our office, was about not knowing when to shut up, about drawing further attention to the undesirable.

    Sure this is the hot topic in the media and I suppose Nike is standing by their man, protecting their investment but… however potent this spot may be, it still smells of desperation. I guess it’s taking me three paragraphs to say, I have a real problem with the If You Can’t Beat It, Roll In It approach — no matter how freaky artfully it’s presented.

    Somebody posted a comment on AdAge saying Tiger should just “shut up and play golf.” That would’ve been best for all concerned, including Tiger’s family and our souls. I’ve been learning, however, that most people don’t feel like they’re earning their keep by suggesting less is more.

  4. SRP said

    While I agree that Tiger’s most gracious move would have been to “shut up and play golf” that is just not the world we live in. Everything is on display: our rises and falls. All of it is entertainment.

  5. To me the commercial is a rather emotionally-raw vignette of a little boy who’s parents demanded he be “the Universal Child” and “the Chosen One.”


  6. Jason Fox said

    This ad is just creepy. I understand what they were going for, but to 1. parcel together soundbites from his dead father who 2. was a notorious womanizer himself smacks of distaste, opportunism and a serious bout of WTFitis. I’m glad I didn’t do this ad.

    The best I can say for it is that it won’t automatically keep me from buying Nikes.

    At least Wieden’s still knocking it out of the park with Old Spice. I bought some body wash yesterday just to support the campaign. And to get rid of my congenital lady scent.


    • SRP said

      Lots of folks suggesting we might not recall this as, or who did it, in a short time. Ten years ago Charles Barkley said “I’m not a role model.” We remember.

      • Jason Fox said

        Oh, I don’t think this will be forgotten any time soon. And while I think it’s a misstep for both W+K and Nike, it’s barely a stumble compared to the river of hideousness many brand spew forth daily. So, fifteen minutes of foul, but no ultimate harm.

  7. Rich said

    As an ad, just a piece of pure creative work, it is a stopper. In a vacuum, were this produced by a student for his or her portfolio as an example of an ad with impact, it’d be brilliant.

    That’s where my praise of the spot ends.

    Tiger is wearing his pouty-face like he does when he misses a putt. His beloved father’s words have been chopped and placed out of context to sound like they’re stopping just short of scolding… asking for an explanation that we know will never come (and should it, anyway?).

    For Tiger to agree to the exploitation of his father… and for Nike to somehow think exploiting Tiger’s escapades is good for their brand… is distasteful on so many levels.

    As a single event, I’d say this is a bad move both for Tiger and Nike.

    But in the long run, both will survive and remain strong.

    (As an aside, perhaps equally distasteful but the joke is picking away at my brain… Would Nike still have done this ad in this context if they were still using the “Just do it” line?)

  8. Gene Payne said

    It occurs to me that the blogosphere – in relation to the ad business – has become one, massive focus group. And, as those of who know better will attest, the focus group model is seriously flawed. If Nike or WK were to have focus group tested the Tiger Woods’ spot, it would have never aired. The spot is risky and original…focus groups defy that sort of thing. Heck, the line “Just do it” — missing from this spot, notably — would’ve surely died in a focus group. I say, test in small measure, if you must. But let the “persuaders” do their thing. Yes, this spot is unusual, maybe a little creepy. But it doesn’t waffle. It’s unblinking (so to speak.) And that’s a good thing. I’m with you, SP, on this one.

  9. Ron said

    We live in a “anything goes” society where propaganda and controversy is in. The screen your sitting in front of is the worlds new crack cocaine. Spewing any content available to feed the viewers habit, an audience grasping for anything outside of the norm. Like any addiction, eventually we need more and more to get the daily fix, which is why this spot is glamorized, parodied, analyzed etc…..

    The sad part is, it works on many levels. But the real questions are: How has it come to this? Why should this matter? Do you really believe Tiger is “cured” changed man? What would his father have really had said to him?

    Even more important, does this spot make it all better for his wife?

    And, Does Nike really give a fuck about her?

    I will say this, Nike is consistent in pushing the envelope. Now we have seen how far they are willing to go. They have shown a complete lack of disrespect. Its a sad situation and using it as a marketing ploy is even sadder.

    Nike now glamorizes and supports a pimp with help of W-K. Who the biggest whore is remains to be seen.

    • SRP said

      Tell us how you really feel 😉
      you’re right about the addictive society. We have all become what I call “content zombies.”
      But I’m not ready to brand Tiger with a scarlet letter beyond what has already transpired. And, yes, while it is noble to worry about his wife, no one ultimately will. She’s rich and beautiful. Her broken heart will heal. And that’s that…

  10. Dan said

    I strongly believe this ad and people’s sentiment towards it will change greatly depending upon Tiger’s performance. I guarantee if he wins the Masters, or any major this year, people will remember this as the ad that started it all. While if his performance falters, it may act somewhat as a scapegoat or at least lend itself to much more negative criticism.

    This ad, or any golf ad for that matter, isn’t out to sell something to everyone but rather the select few who actually enjoy the game. That being said, most of the golf world, appearing by their reaction to Tiger down in Augusta, are pleased with his return, excited to see him play and thus probably not critiquing the spot like most industry professionals. Any thoughts?

  11. SRP said

    Some more fuel for the fire? Tiger’s dad wasn’t even talking to him! Thank Adrants for the scoop: http://www.adrants.com/2010/04/earl-jones-was-not-talking-to-tiger-in.php

    • tjay said

      Believable? Brand? Integrity? Could be the reason it’s so hard for us to sell anybody anything anymore is that we’ve all gotten so crass about lying, nobody believes anything we say. I’m not suggesting we weren’t lying before. It’s just, we seemed to have a little more finesse. Folks could expect to enjoy being had.

      The Tiger ad set up would have us believe the man sincerely cares what we think, though I don’t know why he would. And of course, the entire episode — remorse, poor dead-dad’s concern — all fake. Of course. It’s one thing to lie to his wife, she gets paid to listen to him. The rest of us just have to pay. Or turn him off.

      BTW Nike. Just Do It used to stand for something entirely different.

  12. Annette said

    Lots of interesting points. But I can’t imagine anyone thinks Nike cares about how it affects his wife.

    Since we have children’s programming on a lot in our house, when the story broke over Thanksgiving, one of my first thoughts was how long it would take for Kellogg’s to tone down the “WE ARE TIGERS!” in the commercials for Frosted Flakes — I think it took about a month.
    about an hour ago ·

  13. Steve Brodwolf said

    Nike has achieved exactly what they wanted, to incite discussion in which Nike is a part. The only mistake they made was this spot should have only aired once to bring it more of an ad legend status. Social media would have done the rest. Earl told me so.

    • tjay said

      True Steve. In fact, I’ve never even seen the spot on air. Can’t miss all the comments and re-tweets and re-broadcasting on every social media outlet and blog I happen to follow. Amazing. That Earl must be pretty smart. I just wonder if the same strategy works for a brand when there isn’t such a provocative lie involved?

  14. tiger is a scumbag. his father was a scumbag. so nike runs a spot featuring two scumbags. how in any way is this supposed to be positive? i think the 35% of men who cheat on their wives will applaud it. but anyone with any kind of a moral compass will see it for what it is–a sleazy first step towards rehabbing tiger’s image.

    • SRP said


      I’m not going to defend Tiger’s actions or Nike’s but doesn’t everyone deserve a chance at redemption? Ours chances are more private than his but still…
      Unless one has never lied or cheated or let down others I don’t think he or she can throw stones. Am I wrong?

  15. Robert Leung said

    Underwhelming at best. (Small point but how would we know that it is his father speaking for starters?)

    I don’t think it humanizes Woods at all. Quite the contrary, it further distances him from humanity. That same disconnected stare, incapable of displaying any human emotion. That same defiantly, mute somewhat confused expression. Using his dead fathers words to create the appearance of the soul searching, mea culpa he hasn’t been willing, or able to believably deliver since all this broke. Talk about shameless.

    Making a commercial out of what for most would have been a personal tragedy, or at the very least an embarrassment best kept as private as possible, destroys all sense of dignity and sincerity. Exploiting perhaps the only potential for a genuine human emotion in what has rightly been described as a “robotic”, carefully scripted and controlled public persona completes the portrait of a man still out of touch with himself and the world he inhabits.

    Nike and Wieden and Kennedy, who have created legendary work, in this case break ground the way a reality show does, packaging and spinning the latest phony performance as something meaningful. Unfortunately I think it will succeed in garnering more attention for Nike. Not quite capitalism at its best but who cares. Our ability to discern reality from fantasy has been severely diminished.

    Woods is a great golfer. He seems much less than great as a human being. We can all relate to that but his continued lack of character and judgement do not make him in any way likeable or admirable to me. His father wasn’t perfect but his words at least indicate that he was more in touch with reality than his son. Too bad he couldn’t pass that on.

  16. Regarding the Nike Tiger apologia ad, I thought it was conceived and executed with a certain amount of finesse and sophistication. As I’d expect from Nike.

    But, it ain’t fooling anybody. And he should not be participating in this bullshit anyway.

    Do what Babe Ruth would have done. Tell the newspaper boys in so many words to go screw themselves. They’re obviously just jealous.

    That said, Nike was very shrewd. Does anybody think there is one golf fan in the entire country who cares about this? Except, inasmuch as it has kept Woods away from the game for no good reason.

    Nike will hereafter own Tiger, who is likely to go down in history as the greatest golfer who ever lived.

    He will also go down as one of the dumbest athletes who ever walked. (Do baseball players or basketball players get busted for this routine kinda stuff?)

    I mean, who the hell emails love letters and leaves “love you better than my wife” phone mail for bimbos and out-and-out hookers?

    The whole point of hookers, for those who go in for that sorta deal, is that unlike girlfriends on the side, they don’t fall in love with you, they don’t call you at home, they don’t go to Gloria Allred because you didn’t marry them.

    That is, unless you start writing electronic love letters to them.

    Previously to all this, Tiger Woods didn’t talk very much. He gave the impression that he was very disciplined, focused, and pretty bright.

    Now we know that he is very disciplined, very focused. And something close to an idiot.

    Although my general opinion about the entire “scandal” has been, nobody’s business but his wife and family, here’s where I come out: Tiger, your fidelity is your business. Your stupidity made it everybody else’s.

    -Robert Chandler
    Los Angeles

    • tjay said

      Exactly stupid. And that’s the only part that annoys me. Somebody so stupid makes more money than GAWD, has more sex than anybody and plays golf, GOLF of all things like he’s had sex with a god. Stupid just should not WORK. I had a husband who pretended to be stupid every time anything went wrong. It didn’t work. For Tiger, —is that his real name?— it works like a charm.

      You go tiger!
      (Now, where’d I leave that stupid husband I used to have?)

  17. Meanwhile, an addendum to my first comment here. And, it’s my main theme about the entire l Affaire Tigre:

    Mr. Woods has now had to become a hypocrite in order to assuage the hypocrisy of the braying media.

    Most of whom have taken indulgences akin to his own, albeit on a much smaller scale.

    Or, alternately, they have not so indulged, but wish they could.

  18. @Steffan,

    I neglected to click the “notify me of follow-ups” button when I submitted my addendum.

    If there is a way you can do that for me after you’ve moderated it (and assuming it gets past the censors) I’d appreciate the favor.


    -robert c

  19. Well, now I can’t shut up on this subject:

    And furthermore…

    The big mistake of the spot was ending with “What have you learned?”

    That was simply teeing them up for every kind of joke. From the likes of me (“Here’s what I’ve learned, Dad: I will no longer leave lame sex mail messages on my girlfriends’ cell phones.”) all the way up to Colbert.

    And, it will reverberate as the radio waves waft out into the far reaches of space, to infinity and beyond.

  20. […] was creeped out and impressed in equal measures.” Steffan Postaer, CCO, Euro RSCG, Chicago on Gods of Advertising Leave a Comment No Comments Yet so far Leave a comment RSS feed for comments on this post. […]

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