Recently capturing this Accenture billboard in the Minneapolis airport, I couldn’t help but be struck by how far the Accenture brand has moved from its previously prized spokesperson and celebrity Tiger Woods, apparently just in time for Tiger’s recent rebound on the golf course — I’ll refrain from calling it a comeback. I’m not
Charlie Sheen, aka “F-18”, “Warlock”, “Torpedo of Truth” — oh please — is instructive to anyone pondering the vicissitudes of brands, particularly celebrities as brands.
Unless you have been off planet Earth for the last year, you have surely watched the not-so-slow train wreck called Charlie Sheen. Once…
Putting aside the questions of whether Tiger Woods needed to or should have made a public apology, the timing of it, and even the content of it, now that Brand Tiger made the decision to do so and did so last Friday, I’m interested more with how Tiger conveyed it and the likely impact it will have on…
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…
The impact of the Tiger Woods scandal in branding can be viewed from two different perspectives. The first perspective comes from the point of view of the companies that paid Woods to endorse their products. The second perspective is how the personal brand of Tiger Woods will be impacted as the smoke clears from this series of events.
Two professors in University of California-Davis’ Economics Department attempted to measure the impact from the first perspective. They claimed that shareholders in publicly traded companies that Woods endorsed lost $5-12 billion in the weeks that followed the car accident in Florida that set off the scandal. They undoubtedly have an interesting perspective, but there are limiting factors in their research. However, an undisputable fact of the Tiger Woods scandal is that it put a lot of brand management teams in a very delicate situation. Brand managers at firms where Woods served as an endorser had to consider how their brands would be perceived by their target consumers if they were to continue the relationship. It is not an enviable position.
When a brand chooses to link arms with a celebrity endorser, it must consider which celebrities will be effective endorsers. It is essential to select celebrities that will positively contribute to revenue growth and profitability. I believe that a celebrity endorser is most effective when the target consumer perceives them as attractive or desirable in some fashion and the product is related to the expertise of the celebrity. For example, Michael Jordan was an effective endorser of both Nike and Gatorade because of his status as an elite athlete and the fact that both brands are related to athletic performance. Gisele Bundchen is an effective endorser for Dolce & Gabbana fragrances because scent is an important aspect of appearance and she is the embodiment of phenomenal appearance. She would be far less effective as a celebrity endorser for the Toyota Camry. With regards to Tiger Woods, he is most effective in endorsing Nike Golf products and any other golf related brands. His effect is diminished for brands like Gillette and AT&T.
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?