Earlier this month, I noted Accenture’s words in publicly ending its relationship with Tiger Woods, having announced around December 13, 2009, that it would "immediately transition" to a new ad campaign, and then compared those words to the company’s actions in continuing to run the Tiger Woods airport ads even three weeks after their termination announcement. Right

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?


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