Having been shunned by corporate America and shut out of most of his spokesman gigs, Tiger Woods has reemerged, looking sullen and forlorn. Apologetic, even. His new Nike ad (among a few advertising new spots), which came out earlier this week, is a bizarre one. Tiger stares straight ahead with a somber look on his face, while his father's voice resonates, saying, "I want to find out what your thinking was. I want to find out what your feelings are. And did you learn anything?" Of course, these words are significant to us now, in light of Tiger's recent travails, but the words were apparently spoken in 2006, and Nike gives us no context for them.
I like this editorial, which came out in The New Yorker shortly after news of Tiger's infidelity broke. James Surowiecki wrote, "Woods’s appeal was based, ultimately, not on his physical abilities but on his mental toughness, his extraordinary capacity for focus and discipline. He was the man who always made the key putt, who never cracked under pressure…In other words, Woods has been presented as the embodiment of bourgeois virtues: dedication, hard work, single-mindedness." And that's the image that helped make him a formidable poster child of the business world. But the scandal that came out muddied that perfect image of self control, and it drastically affected Tiger's public image, to the point where companies (Accenture among them) no longer felt comfortable having him as their representative. Surowiecki continues, "It’s hard to think of a scandal that’s more discordant with an image of focus and discipline than this one…Some have speculated, optimistically, that this may humanize the Tiger. But that’s exactly the problem: what was so amazing about Woods was precisely that he wasn’t like the rest of us—that he wasn’t weak or distracted."
Perhaps, in this new ad, Nike is aiming to restore Tiger's public image of discipline and straight-faced business by having him lectured by his father—just in time for him to step on the course again in the Masters. Is America more likely to side with Tiger if we believe his father was disappointed in his actions, and that Tiger has been scolded? And if Tiger answers affirmatively to his father's last question, "Did you learn anything?," are we apt to forgive him, too, and maybe even root for him in this tournament? And then, of course, buy some Nikes?
Rather than putting forth a strong, controlled, business-like persona, the Nike ad leaves me with a different feeling. It seems as though Woods' father is putting him in a time-out corner, waiting for him to fully come to terms with what he's done, after which he'll emerge walking on eggshells for a while until he hopes those around him will have forgotten about his misdeeds. So while Tiger may perform well in the Masters, for now it seems he'll remain the cast-off child of corporate America.
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