THE TIGER WOODS DISCONNECT
Why Nike could never leverage the World No.1
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.”