Nike for Tiger Woods Victory Lap: If Nike Says Everything’s OK, Is It?

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Winning takes care of everything. Or so says Nike. 

The sporting goods giant posted a quickly contentious image on its Nike Golf Facebook and Twitter accounts this week in the wake of Tiger Woods’ record-tying eighth victory at the Arnold Palmer Invitational showing the newly-(re)crowned world No. 1-ranked golfer sizing up a putt. The slogan, “Winning takes care of everything,” a favorite saying of Woods since 2009, is front and center. At the bottom, of course, is Nike’s famous swoosh—alongside the word, “Victory.”

Nike says the statement references Woods’ perseverance to return to the top of his sport and is a salute to his athletic performance. But everything? Please. Sports fans weren’t the only ones who devoured every titillating detail of Woods’ personal life when it was exposed following his late 2009 admission of multiple extra-marital affairs.[more]

His five-year marriage to Swedish model Elin Nordegren—the mother of his two children—blew up and ended in 2010 after an avalanche of tawdry details came to light.

Now, nearly three years later, Nike—which has a Tiger Wood spring apparel collection to sell—thinks it’s time to get Woods back in the spotlight, and it worked. The ad certainly raised a lot of eyebrows and garnered plenty of feedback on social channels, with 9,000 ‘likes’ on Facebook and plenty of retweets on Twitter. 

While Accenture, AT&T, Gatorade and General Motors completely ended their sponsorship deals with Woods, Nike opted to stay with the world’s highest-paid athlete, (it also recently offered him a $100-million deal over five years) and even helped him recover his image with a black and white ad that featured the voice of Wood’s late father, Earl.

It’s far from the first time Nike has hitched its cart to an athlete tainted by scandal.

Most recently, Nike, after some hesitation, dropped accused murderer and double-amputee Olympic star Oscar Pistorious from the $2 million contract it had with him. The situation was all too ironic for the company, which had ran an ad in 2011 featuring Pistorious with the words, “I am the bullet in the chamber.” 

Anybody remember Lance Armstrong? Nike ended that relationship too once the disgraced cyclist admitted to doping a few months ago. It also accused the man, who had seven Tour de France titles stripped away, of misleading the company for more than a decade. That marked an abrupt about-face for Nike, which had stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Armstrong for many years while he deflected doping accusations from all directions.

There’s no denying that public figures deserve a second chance and certainly there have been many who have remade themselves in the wake of a scandal, but they didn’t have a marketing machine looking to profit off their return to glory, either.

Abbey Klaassen, editor of Ad Age, told CBS she was a little surprised at how “brazen” Nike’s new Woods campaign was. “The danger here is just when Tiger gets his golf mojo back and the momentum, you’re reminding people of this really dark period of his life,” she says. But Klaassen doesn’t think Nike is the least bit surprised by the reaction it has generated. “I think Nike is one bold marketer. I think they’re very, very clever. I think they love the fact people are talking about Tiger and talking about this ad. It is an ad with swagger and that, like it or not, is part of sports,” she says.

Allen Adamson, managing director of branding firm Landor Associates, told CBS “it’s risky when you associate with a celebrity only based on winning or losing. Consumers care about how you play the game: both the actual game and the game of life.”

NFL Quarterback Michael Vick was another one of the Nike bad boys who was given a second chance after his 2007 conviction and subsequent incarceration for animal cruelty. (He operated a dog-fighting ring at his home while a member of the Atlanta Falcons.) His deal with Nike was renewed in 2011 after he had joined the Philadelphia Eagles but the news wasn’t nearly as high profile as the latest with Woods. One supposes though that a shot of a snarling Vick accompanied by any number of slogans like “I’m a animal!” or “It’s a dog-eat-dog world!” would have been bad for business.

One thing that winning seems to have taken care of for Woods is his love life. A week before Woods reclaimed the No. 1 ranking, he revealed he was dating Olympic ski champion, Lindsey Vonn.

What’s next for Nike? A campaign about Woods sinking a hole in (just) one? We’re sure they’ll mean only on the golf course.

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