The travails of Tiger's have created a firestorm with revelations and reports of the world's Number 1 golfer clocking up more birdies off the course than on! A peculiar mix of voyeuristic glee and disappointment abounds as the ultimate, squeaky clean role model and robo-golfer stumbles and his private peccadillo's are put on public display.
With today's instant 24/7 news cycle where nothing is off the record, Tiger's personal life has exploded across news channels and the Internet. The man who has always been in total control on the golf course has become living proof that the traditional corporate branding illusions of control are dead and everything is up for public consumption.
What are the branding lessons to be learned from Tiger's precipitous fall from grace? Will it make him more human and by implication more relatable and marketable or will it tarnish his billion dollar brand forever?
In our collective thinking there exists a strange notion that professional athletes, unlike pop stars or politicians, must be role models because children try to become like them. Tiger Woods the brand is based on performance, excellence, integrity and truth which is why the likes of Accenture, Nike, Gillette,Buick and Gatorade have paid millions to be associated with him and have in turn made billions in the process.
But with cracks emerging Tiger's failure is a lesson in the essential fragility of the personal brand. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and yet loses his own soul? In many ways Woods has presented himself to the world in a way that we wanted to believe and the Tiger brand has eclipsed the sum total of what the man himself really is. From a young age his late father Earl believed that Woods was a superior being and rather alarmingly predicted that Tiger would change the course of humanity. Team Tiger set out to craft and perfect an image of what Tiger should become and built an impenetrable cloak of invincibility that attracted sponsors and was often used as a weapon against competitors on the golf course.
As Tiger-gate unfolds sponsors seem to be taking a wait-and-see approach. They have issued public statements that they intend standing by him although the escalating revelations create greater uncertainty. The corporate model is built on conservatism and minimal risk, which is what made Tiger Woods such a great investment in the first place. Brands like Accenture are strong rooted in trust and integrity must be reeling from the allegations which have a haunting instead of halo effect. Celebrity web site, TMZ reported today that Gatorade is discontinuing their special Tiger Woods' Gatorade line on 26th December and that their decision has "absolutely no connection" to the golfer's current predicament and had been made months ago prior to the revelations.
By being reluctant to speak out and canceling appearances as the story was unfolding Tiger has added fuel to his own fire. Tiger's veil has been pierced and the he can no longer hide behind his platoon of advisers and issue statements from his web site. He has to spent a lifetime avoiding the hazards but will have to come out from the confines of the clubhouse and in true American style confess his sins - probably on Oprah - regain his control and composure and then lie low until the Tour starts in the new year.
Although the Tiger brand is tainted the supernatural talent has not gone away. When Tiger is on the course the PGA Tour rakes in millions from television ratings and his return to the Tour will probably attract even greater ratings and media attention than ever before. Personally he will need to exorcise his demons and professionally his performance will be put under intense pressure and public scrutiny. This will ultimately be the biggest test of his career if not his character.
Tiger has reminded us all that our brands are all about our reputations and at the end of the day it's the one thing that none of us can really afford to lose.