Nike recently made an ad where a sad Tiger Woods stares depressingly into the camera as his dead father asks him questions about his behavior.
This ad has not been positively received, but I think the ad’s incompetent execution hides an interesting advertising message.
Clearly, the ad sucks. Tiger looks not so much tragic and introspective as pathetic and sulky, like a child. The Earl Woods monologue also doesn’t quite fit. Clearly it’s taken from some other context (since, after all, he’s dead), and it sounds like he’s talking about a missed putt rather than a moral failing. His speech starts, “Tiger, I am more prone to be inquisitive, to promote discussion” but this makes no sense in the context of a discussion of someone’s adultery. Rather than asking the questions directly, he says “I want to find out …” which focuses the statement on Earl Woods own internal mental state rather than putting the emphasis on his relationship with Tiger. It sounds like a coach reviewing game tape by himself rather than a teacher trying to spur growth in his student. I don’t understand why Nike screwed up something so important this badly.
Aside from its execution, however I think many people find this ad inappropriate on a number of levels: most importantly, maybe the story of Tiger’s remorse shouldn’t be branded by the Nike swoosh. Brand advertisement creates a larger-than-life reality that we know isn’t true, so it seems completely awful to fit Tiger’s ostensibly true journey of remorse into a format that epitomizes unreliability. Apologizing in a Nike commercial feels just as fictional as if Tiger chose to apologize by selling the rights to a movie about his life, so we can all watch Denzel Washington (as Tiger Woods) promise to be a better man as he stands at the grave of his father (played by James Earl Jones in flashback).
Rather than putting his apology into advertisement, it feels like Tiger’s feelings ought to be authentically expressed in interviews and reported on by objective media. How could Tiger’s Nike advertisement narrative have the same truth value as the truthiness of an interview with Barbara Walters or Oprah? We know we should be a little skeptical of the celebrity revelations we read in People Magazine, but how could this branded advertisement possibly be the same thing? It’s just so creepy and exploitative when Nike tries to use Tiger’s late father as a vehicle for selling its products. Why can’t Tiger just tell all about his father’s questions to Us Weekly?
I hope that the examples of media outlets I’m giving are starting to explain the point of this post: apart from the Nike copy, there is no “real” Tiger (for the viewing public’s purposes). It’s all just a commercial construct, the interviews and televised apologies just as artificial as the fist pump that has punctuated a thousand Nike spots and sold a billion golf balls. The public statements that we’ve seen and the interviews that we trust are all just an aspect of the larger project of selling the corporate athlete. The fact that branded advertising is taking the next step and actually trying to stitch the “real” story via a YouTube video branded by Nike is a fascinating next step — maybe they don’t need the celebrity media at all. Maybe they can just give up the pretext of heightened advertisement versus normal reality and instead take total control of the superstar-creating process. Right now, this seems conceptually creepy and inappropriate, but, if done with more skill, it may soon be commonplace.