When brands and trademarks are at risk of being infringed, swift and immediate protective action is required, given the inherently reputational nature of the resulting damage. That is why the law typically presumes the necessary "irreparable damage" when issuing immediate injunctive relief, once a plaintiff is able to show, among other things, that it is likely to win its trademark infringement claim. Without "irreparable harm or damage" there can be no court’s injunction because the simple payment of money will right the wrong.
But, what about outside the context of trademark infringement and court ordered injunctions, in the world of contracts, for example, when a sponsor no longer wants to be associated with a celebrity endorser that has become damaging to the sponsor’s reputation? Is the same degree of immediacy required to erase all public signs of the relationship? Perhaps it depends on whether the damage rises to the level of irreparable damage or harm. If so, then perhaps no amount of money will be or should be spared to pull the ads immediately and stop the reputational bleeding.
One might ask how this dynamic has played out between Accenture and Tiger Woods.
After the New Year, and about three weeks after Accenture announced it had ended its relationship with Tiger Woods, I noticed a multitude of Accenture ads in three different airports (Minneapolis, Dallas, and Phoenix), all featuring guess who? Tiger.
My first thought was genuine surprise to see them, given it had been three weeks, and further given that Accenture was so promptly out of the gate as the first sponsor to publicly sever its ties with Tiger. Indeed, two weeks after Tiger’s reputational scandal broke in the news, Accenture announced Tiger "is no longer the right representative" for Accenture’s advertising, and it was reported the company would "immediately transition" to a new advertising campaign. Some experts even cautioned that Accenture’s Tiger billboards and airport advertising "need to be replaced quickly" for obvious reasons, as they now "damage" Accenture’s brand and reputation.
So, how damaging to the Accenture brand is the lingering association with Tiger and the smirks that seem to follow given the now rather awkward branding messages that Accenture had adopted as part of the Tiger relationship? If you read Accenture’s words from December 13, how quickly they were announced, and how others have praised Accenture for taking this swift and necessary action, the damage sounds quite serious, perhaps even irreparable, but isn’t talk cheap? Or at least, more inexpensive than actions?
For example, I’m certain the cost of scrubbing a website and purging corporate headquarters of any sign that Accenture still knows "what it takes to be a tiger" is far less than the cost of purging all airports of any trace of the Accenture/Tiger endorsement arrangement. In any event, it would have been more than mildly interesting to be part of the dialogue that must have quantified the cost of implementing the directive for an "immediate" transition from Tiger, and the alternative quantifications of slower transition plans, and the one that the company eventually settled upon.
Do you agree that the greater the damage to Accenture, the more "immediate" the transition would have been, i.e., days, not weeks or months?
As it turns out, the Accenture website apparently hasn’t been completely scrubbed either, as it still has a copy of the October 3, 2003 press release announcing the original sponsorship deal, here. Something tells me, however, it may have a short shelf-life, so I have extracted a few paragraphs that highlight Accenture’s current dilemma:
NEW YORK–Oct 3, 2003—Accenture (NYSE: ACN) announced today that it has entered into an agreement with Tiger Woods to represent the company as a symbol of its new High Performance Business strategy.
* * * * *
“Tiger Woods’ strength, mastery, discipline and relentless focus on winning are universally recognized qualities that mirror the characteristics of a high-performance business, making him the ideal representative for our market positioning,“ said Joe W. Forehand, Accenture chairman and CEO. “A high-performance business is one that optimizes its resources to achieve its objectives and consistently outperforms competitors. Tiger is the best at his game, and we want our clients to be the best at theirs.“
“Accenture understands that the ability to adapt to changing conditions and to innovate are key to consistent high performance in business as well as on the golf course,“ said Tiger Woods. “The Accenture campaign’s focus on turning in your best performance and delivering winning results reflects my personal values and made teaming with Accenture in my first business-to-business relationship an easy decision.“
* * * * *
“The Accenture brand is less than three-years old, yet it is already ranked among the 100 most valuable brands in the world,“ said James E. Murphy, global managing director, Marketing & Communications at Accenture. “It’s appropriate that a brand of Accenture’s stature should be associated with one of the leading figures in sports and popular culture. Tiger Woods is the epitome of delivering high performance and he is relevant, respected and admired by the top executives to whom the campaign is targeted.“
We’ll keep our eyes open for when the Accenture/Tiger airport ads finally disappear, but please let us know what you’re seeing too.