Why Nike could never lever­age the World No.1

Golf Asia (Malaysia) - - SCENE -

Nike’s golf story was in­spired by the global fame and charisma of Tiger Woods. From the start, it was clear that the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the player and the Ore­gonbased com­pany was far more am­bi­tious and com­plex than just another golf en­dorse­ment deal: Brand Tiger would help de­fine the link be­tween busi­ness and sport celebrity. The first time we saw Woods on tele­vi­sion he was pitch­ing for the brand. “Hello World” he said, echo­ing a Nike slo­gan just a few days af­ter sign­ing his first multi-mil­lion dol­lar deal as a 19-year-old Stan­ford grad­u­ate in 1996.

Woods’ role in the Nike story high­lights the ba­sic prob­lem of mar­ket­ing: cause and ef­fect. The ef­fect is very easy to spot – sales rise or fall – but get­ting to the cause is where ex­pen­sive mis­takes are made as suc­cess or failure is at­trib­uted to the wrong thing. ‘Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted,’ goes the in­dus­try cliché. ‘I just don’t know which half’.

When ap­plied to golf, the ma­jor golf equip­ment brands spend enor­mous sums of money on tour player en­dorse­ments, in the hope this will en­cour­age reg­u­lar golfers to buy their equip­ment. Things are rarely that sim­ple, how­ever. Player en­dorse­ments can cer­tainly help make a brand fa­mous, but just know­ing of their ex­is­tence is not enough to per­suade us to shell out on a new set of irons or the lat­est driver. The am­bas­sado­rial role of Tiger and, sev­eral years later, Rory McIl­roy who signed a $200 mil­lion con­tract in 2012, was at odds with how golf clubs are tra­di­tion­ally bought and sold.

“Nike did pro­duce some ex­cel­lent prod­ucts, but their mar­ket­ing cen­tred on what Tiger or Rory were us­ing rather than how the prod­uct ac­tu­ally helped the av­er­age golfer,” says Paul Hedges, CEO of Fore­most, the UK’s largest golf retail group, which boasts a mem­ber­ship of over 950 club pro­fes­sion­als and is re­spon­si­ble for 25% of all UK golf sales.

“With an ed­u­cated and dis­cern­ing buyer that was not enough,” Hedges con­tin­ues. “With­out fully em­brac­ing cus­tom-fit tech­nol­ogy to demon­strate play­ing ben­e­fits, they al­lowed other brands to be seen as a bet­ter choice.”

There was al­ways a flaw at the heart of Nike’s Tiger strat­egy, Hedges as­serts.

Put sim­ply, most of the peo­ple who idolised and were most in­flu­enced by Tiger were not the ones buy­ing the clubs. “Golf’s de­mo­graphic skew means that with the higher av­er­age age of par­tic­i­pants the hero wor­ship of iconic play­ers was never as pow­er­ful as it was re­ported to be.

“In short, wealth­ier, more ma­ture golfers never re­ally warmed to a brand that was per­ceived as be­ing heav­ily aligned with teenagers,” says Hedges.

“It is a mis­take to think that a young de­mo­graphic will sim­ply stay with a brand as they grow older. As we get older, our brand val­ues change and we are in­flu­enced by other things.”

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