‘I am Tiger Woods.’
In Nike’s Tiger Woods ad, released just after Nike signed Tiger in 1996, that line is repeated almost twenty times by African-American and Asian-American schoolkids.
The message was clear. This was someone who was going to change golf. Transcend golf. Transcend sport.
And, of course, he did.
But the question of who Tiger Woods is, and what he stands for, has become central to the man and his marketing ever since.
And no sportsman has ever presented so many different answers, or so many different personas.
Including the ‘Comeback Tiger’ of his astonishing Masters victory earlier this month, there have been almost as many Tiger Woods personas as there were ‘I Am Tiger Woods’ incantations in that early Nike ad.
Tyro Tiger, Phil Knight’s next Michael Jordan.
Earl Woods’ next-Messiah Tiger, the Tiger of that 1996 ad, who was gradually dialled down as Corporate Tiger (see below) took over.
Real Deal Tiger, who really made us sit up and notice by blowing away The Masters field in 1997 to win his first Major.
King Tiger, who then kept winning Majors, and everything else.
Nike Tiger, of all those ads, all those Swooshes, and that red Sunday shirt.
Corporate Tiger, the face of a thousand other ad campaigns.
Billionaire Tiger, who named his price for every endorsement and every paid-for tournament appearance, and got it.
Happily-married Tiger, the husband, the dad, the role model.
Disgraced Tiger, after the crash heard round the world.
Penitent Tiger, of that excruciating press conference.
Marmite Tiger, who divided, and still divides, press and public opinion.
Wounded Tiger, crippled, written-off and, apparently, forever delayed.
DUI Tiger, of that agonising mugshot.
East Lake Tiger – ignored in most of the post-Masters coverage – who first showed that he was really back by winning the Tour Championship last September and, characteristically, drawing huge crowds and doubling the tournament’s TV audience.
And, the following week, Ryder Cup Tiger, who still couldn’t make it happen inside the team ethic.
All these past personas and stories matter, because together they make up Brand Tiger just as powerfully as the ‘new’ post-Masters Brand Tiger.
In fact, they are essential to it.
This was evident in all the talk of ‘redemption’ about Tiger’s Masters comeback.
But as we are talking marketing rather than morality, I prefer another ‘r’ word: reappraisal.
During the night and day after Tiger won, I saw and heard countless stories of people who were previously neutral or negative about Tiger (and golf!) rooting for him throughout that epic final round and weeping when he won.
What this represents is a mass reappraisal of Brand Tiger, in which how Tiger made people feel in the past is essential to how he makes them feel now.
It creates yet another Tiger Woods persona, and opens new possibilities for Brand Tiger and a new story that will dominate golf for as long as he stays healthy and competitive.
Nike will be central to both. The Nike ad that dropped after Tiger’s win was not just a celebration but a statement of intent. Phil Knight’s support for Tiger has been consistent, and Tiger has become essential to Nike’s DNA like no other athlete except Michael Jordan.
I would also expect Tiger and his long-time agent Mark Steinberg to add more sponsors to the impressive list they have been quietly rebuilding in recent years. Brand Tiger’s mass reappraisal and the story of his against-all-odds comeback creates a marketing opportunity to which many chief executives and chief marketing officers will be receptive.
There will be two other major beneficiaries.
One, of course, is golf itself. As his wins at East Lake and Augusta again demonstrated, Tiger shifts the needle like no-one else. Though every tournament that he enters will once again feel this effect, golf’s four Majors will be particularly elevated, as the sport’s dominant story will inevitably move on from Tiger’s comeback to his renewed quest for the three Major wins that would equal Jack Nicklaus’ record eighteen titles.
The other beneficiary will be Nicklaus, because Jack is of course integral to that story. Every time Tiger tees it up in a Major, and every time he wins, the quote that they will all want above all others is Jack’s.
A partnership with Tiger is the obvious play to take advantage of his comeback. But smart brands should be looking at a partnership with the Golden Bear just as closely.
Tim Crow has been at the forefront of sports marketing for thirty years. Formerly chief executive of Synergy, he now advises a range of companies at the intersection of sport, marketing, media and technology. Follow him @shaymantim.