My Tiger Woods post

I was just thinking about how everyone’s buggin Tiger about his stuff on the side, but nobody cared that the Beatles were doing all the same things (well, not the text messaging, I guess) with groupies. The Beatles are the rock-star equivalent of Tiger, right? A long sequence of #1’s, disciplined about work, and so on?

Then again, Lennon and McCartney didn’t do ads for AT&T, Gilette, Nike, Accenture (huh? what’s that, anyway?), Gatorade, or TLC Laser Eye Centers (or any eye centers, as far as I know). Maybe the standards are higher for people in advertising?

Felix Salmon mocks the above-linked study which claims evidence that Tiger Woods’s scandal hurt his sponsors financially, but what I really don’t understand, though, is how it can make sense for these companies to be paying a golfer to endorse their products. I mean, Golf Digest, sure, but the others? I’m gonna buy somebody’s razor because they paid a million dollars to some dude who can putt? I mean, sure, I understand the reasoning, sort of: Tiger gets attention, you see his face on TV and you whip around to see what the ad is about. If you’re a 30 billion dollar company, it can be worth spending $20 million if you think it will increase profits by 0.067%. But it still seems a bit weird to me. At the level of individual decisions, it makes some sense, but if you step back a bit, it’s just bizarre.

P.S. The Freaknomics blog links to a Yahoo News report of the study claiming that Tiger Woods’s sponsors lost money, but without linking to Felix Salmon’s demolition job. I assume that I’m not the only Freakonomics readers who reads Salmon, so maybe someone will point this out in the comments there.

8 thoughts on “My Tiger Woods post

  1. They weren't paying for his golf skills, they were paying for his celebrity. Tiger used to have an image as someone with a near supernatural ability for high performance under pressure. He executed with a cool, calm precision that affected people at a deep level. His image had a cultural impact much, much bigger than golf. There was even a song written about it, look up Dan Bern's "Tiger Woods" for a succinct statement of what the brand meant.

    But acting skanky and lying extensively has pretty thoroughly shredded that image. He used to be buddha-like, now he just seems like another celebrity douche, self-absorbed and without impulse control.

  2. I could give simple explanations, but I actually suspect what's going on macrosocially with Tiger Woods is culturally complex (particularly with how blacks are using this scandal to position or reposition themselves in American culture).

    One thing I do think is different about the Beatles is that charisma is specifically part of why they were long term celebrities, and I suspect charisma matters a lot in overcoming scandal to remain a popular celebrity.
    I'd put public figures like Magic Johnson, Hugh Heffner, Bill Clinton, and George Clooney in the charismitc cateogry.

  3. Tiger Woods treated his wife shamefully and humiliated her on the world stage. No company can support Tiger Woods, which by tacit implication supports his behaviour towards his wife and kids.

    (Generalising wildly x 2) Men might thinks it's great that Tiger was getting his bit on the side but women just see it as betrayal towards a loving wife. Since women have a large say on what gets bought sponsors have to react to that. I mean, how much gatorade was bought at the supremarket the week it all came out?

    Maybe the diffrence between the 1960s and the 2000s is that women are able to leave marraiges without social humiliation and severe financial hardship.

  4. This is marketing 101 and it's called the halo effect: a perceived positive characteristic is transferred to other unrelated characteristics.

    If you admire a friend because he is good at x you will probably listen to him when he talks about y. Add "celebrity" to the mix and you get much more exposure to your sales massages.

    Do I want Stephen Few to endorse my humble Excel dashboards? Sure I do, because he's an expert on the subject matter. But, I'm sorry to say, I would prefer George Clooney…

  5. These companies are taking advantage of the cognitive bias known as the halo effect. Quoting Wikipedia.."The halo effect is involved in Harold Kelley's implicit personality theory, where the first traits we recognize in other people influence our interpretation and perception of later ones because of our expectations. Attractive people are often judged as having a more desirable personality and more skills than someone of average appearance. Thus, we see that celebrities are used to endorse products that they have no actual expertise in evaluating, and with which they may not even have any prior affiliation"


  6. I doubt there's ever been any expectation that well-known musicians would be faithful husbands.

    That's true of sports stars as well, but of a more recent vintage; young boys probably still read some sports biographies, but there used to be a lot more of those rags-to-riches, practice-and-make-the-big-leagues types of biographies aimed at the youth market. Parents would let their kids read those, but what parent would want their kid to read a biography of, say, Jimmy Hendrix?

    Yolio is right as well — he was a good endorser for calm decision making under pressure, but driving away from an angry wife at 2 a.m. and hitting a fire hydrant and a tree undercuts that.

    If he'd had a long term affair with somebody like, say Katherine Graham (wrong era, but…) that might only have enhanced his reputation for sagacity.

  7. Don Draper in Mad Men says all the time that they use beautiful women to sell to women because "Men want her and you want to be her." That has been the wisdom. Napoleon Dynamite was such a huge success because so many people could identify with the outsider characters.

    BUT, in capital letters, there is very little evidence that celebrity endorsements matter at all. There is little evidence that most advertising – traditional as opposed to click-through – works at all and less for endorsements. Take Gillette. Their line is "the best a man can get" and they've staked their image on a macho style in which shaving is the ordinary man's daily sport so he'd better do it the best he can with the best he can buy. Is that at all meaningful? No one really knows because Gillette also spends a lot of money, pays for store placements, has a nearly exclusive arrangement with Costco, etc. so is it the money or is it the image that sells the product?

    As for losing money, the only lost money that seems real to me – and I've read the discussions – is the cost of undoing ads because this stuff has been paid for, ad time bought, billboards erected, etc. That can be millions but they chose to take on this expense and that's different than the market costing them sales.

Comments are closed.