Coming soon to ads near you? Tiger Woods may pitch again

By Nancy Armour

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, Nov. 23 2010 12:00 a.m. MST

Dressed in Sunday red, hands on hips, Tiger Woods stood at the edge of a rocky drop-off and stared at the water below.

"It's what you do next that counts," the Accenture ad said.

For six years, those ads featuring Woods could be found in every corner of the world. There he was in the weeds, on the green, celebrating with a fist pump.

Every billboard oozed power and success:

"We know what it takes to be a Tiger."

"Go on, be a Tiger."

But when Woods ran his SUV over a fire hydrant last Nov. 27, unleashing a torrent of tawdry and shocking details about his infidelities, those clever catch phrases quickly became punchlines. Within weeks, Accenture and other sponsors distanced themselves from the golfer who had built a billion-dollar industry on his spectacular success on the course and impeccable image off it. It was part of the fallout from a scandal that eventually cost him his marriage and his No. 1 world ranking.

A year has passed since the infamous crash that started it all, and Woods appears ready to re-enter the marketing game. A survey within the last month to test Woods' appeal produced "very powerful, positive, positive results," his longtime agent, Mark Steinberg, said, adding that he's already engaged in "several constructive conversations."

"We are a society of second chances. That's been proven over the years," Steinberg said. "He's not going to be in any deal until he looks the company in the eye and has a serious conversation with them. 'How are you going to live your life? We want to be part of the redemption, rehabilitation. Are you serious about that?' And he knows that. He's comfortable with it. And he's going to do that."

He has already started.

Woods is tweeting and was a guest last week on ESPN Radio's "Mike & Mike in the Morning" Show. In an op-ed column for Newsweek magazine, his tone was humble and hopeful.

"A smart decision by Tiger and his team to be proactive and get ahead of the one-year story," said David Schwab, a vice president at Octagon specializing in celebrity strategy for brands. "Now those stories will talk about his latest words, goals and plans."

Before the crash, Woods was the standard by which all other megawatt pro stars were measured. He exuded class, excellence and determination. Most importantly he was a winner. Corporations around the world were eager to align themselves with him, even if their business had nothing to do with golf. He was, Forbes estimated last year, the first $1 billion athlete.

TV ratings rose when he played, and soared when he was in contention on Sunday. He was a staple of TV and print ads. He was Nike Golf, a walking, talking embodiment of the brand. Even when he did ads for other companies, the Swoosh or TW logo was often present.

"Tiger has done a great job breaking the rules of marketing," said Dean DeBiase, an expert in advertising and brand strategy who is featured in the new book "Nike."

After the crash, though, sponsors found themselves being pulled down by the weight of the scandal. Accenture, for example, was the inadvertent butt of jokes, its ad taglines fodder for late-night comics and tabloid websites.

Two weeks after the crash, Accenture dumped Woods.

"Although Tiger had been an effective symbol of Accenture's high-performance business strategy, our research and analysis concluded that the news surrounding his personal issues last year compromised his ability to help us deliver our key messages to the marketplace," the global consulting firm said in a statement when asked to evaluate its decision almost a year later.

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