John Tantillo's Brand Winner... And Loser: Tiger Woods and The U.S. Secret Service

Brand Winner…

   And Loser

John Tantillo’s Winner and Loser of The Week:   

Winner: Tiger Woods

Loser: The U.S. Secret Service

Folks, two short and sweet takes after last week’s holiday.

The Winner

Tiger Woods is a powerful brand in a perilous place.

All the facts are not yet in —and might never be in— but so far, the car accident aside, Tiger has done everything right, and his brand should emerge from the crisis just fine.

First and foremost, Tiger is a performance brand. Sure, he’s well known for his philanthropy. Sure, he’s well known for being a family man and fiercely protective of his personal privacy. 

But above all, he is an almost super-human golfer. How he does on the golf course matters the most for his brand. If he keeps doing well on the green, everything else should be fine too, as long as he follows the Crisis Action Plan (C.A.P.):

1.                  Respond Quickly
2.                  Be Contrite
3.                  Take Responsibility
4.                  Be Honest
5.                  Communicate Plan of Action

So far, Tiger has set the tone for working through the C.A.P., in keeping with his well-known privacy (a slower, less-responsive pace that his brand can get away because people are used to it). He’s responded, been contrite and taken responsibility, all in one short press release.

Has he been completely honest? I don’t know. But I do know that the words of his release were humble and put his wife on a pedestal —that can do his brand no harm, no matter what other facts might emerge. 

He hasn’t yet communicated a plan of action. But as long as nothing else comes out, there isn’t a need for one. If the accident is the result of a marital spat, then it is simply an embarrassment, nothing more, and everyone will be able to accept that it isn’t really their business. If it was alcohol- or drug-related (no evidence of that), then a positive plan needs to be put into place. The same applies if the story snowballs with other damaging revelations.

But even if there was some kind of affair —a big if— his brand probably won’t be badly damaged.   

Tiger is also what you can call an adult male performance brand. That is, his performance on the golf course is the most important, and his performance off the golf course is forgiven by the adult male Target Market, which tends to give stars a pass when it comes to what it views as indiscretions. 

Not too long ago, another “super human” performance brand, Michael Phelps, was in the hot seat for an indiscretion. He followed C.A.P. and seems to be doing just fine with fans and sponsors alike.

Unless an entirely different, brand-trashing picture emerges, Tiger should also do just fine.

The Loser

The Secret Service.  Who else?

This one falls under the category of the Marketing Doctor’s one paragraph analysis. Here goes:

When you have a great, world-famous brand that can be defined in one phrase (i.e., “protect the president”) and you fail to meet the definition of this phrase (i.e., you allow unknown, possibly threatening people, to shake the president’s hand), you have just violated your core brand characteristic. This means two things: 1) you must reassess everything about your brand, from mission fundamentals to the most minor implementation of this mission; and 2) you must let everyone know that you’re fixing this damage. (The president has ordered a full review.  That’s a start, but it will need to be followed up by genuine corrective action that is widely publicized.) 

There is one clear and valuable takeaway from all this. No matter how great the brand, when something happens that go to core characteristics, the damage can be sudden and great.

And remember, the business of politics and the business of life is always easier when you keep marketing and branding in mind.


Great brands respond to change quickly, decisively and thoroughly.


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