Why Nike's Tiger Ad Is Brilliantly Despicable

Our Tiger, ourselves

By Steve Bryant
|  Thursday, Jun 30, 2011  |  Updated 2:54 PM EDT
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On the Green at The Masters

Getty Images

Tiger Woods (L) plays around with his father, Earl Woods, during the trophy presentation of the Target World Challenge on December 12, 2004 at Sherwood Country Club in Thousand Oaks, California. Woods won the event at 16 under par.

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Nobody wants to disappoint their father.

That's the main takeaway from Nike's new thirty second ad for the world's most mysterious cad. This isn't about what Tiger did, or how he did it, or in what positions. It's about disappointing dad.
 

And what a trick that is. It's not about the deed. It's about the perception of that deed. And perception is what Tiger -- and Nike -- is all about.

Here's how the ad unfolds: Curtain up, Tiger's face in black and white. He looks...tired? With a near-wetness in his eyes. Not crying, maybe about to cry? Not contrite. Maybe confused? Embattled?

This is the point: you're not supposed to know what emotions he's feeling. Nobody knows. That's why we're going to watch the Masters, right? To figure it out. To try to suss for ourselves -- in the way he stands, the way he crouches, the flick of his wrist, his gait on the fairway, anything -- the smallest semblance of a clue to who this man is.

But you won't figure it out. Your only clue will be this brilliant Nike advertisement.

The brilliance is in the blankness. Nike knows -- like everyone who's seen Tiger apologize knows -- that whenever the golfer opens his mouth he fails to sound truly contrite. Solution: render him mute.

Instead: play the voice of Tiger's dead father.

"Tiger?" Earl's voice says. "I am more prone to be inquisitive, to promote discussion." As if to say: I'm not angry, I'm just disappointed. "I want to find out what you're thinking, I want to find out what your feelings are, and...did you learn anything?"

Cue the camera flashes.

You can't see this ad and dislike Tiger. You can't see the ad and even remember what he did. He's just a blank slate on which we project our own troubled lives. That dread that we've let our parents down.

That's the brilliance. The despicable: actually using Tiger's dead father for a rebranding project. The ad is a calculated attempt to use the father Tiger possibly disappointed for material gain. And if Earl were disappointed in Tiger, would he not be more so that his voice was used for this ad? To make people less disappointed?

Who knows. It's complicated. And that's the point, too. In Tiger, we see our human selves.

And isn't that what branding's all about.

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