2005: Business - TaylorMade adds weight to Rossa marketing effort

TaylorMade is banking that the technological innovation that cemented its dominance in the driver market can jump-start its lagging Rossa putter division.

The moveable-weight technology that made TaylorMade’s r7 quad driver all the rage in 2004 – both on Tour and at retail – has been fused with new Anti-skid Groove System Inserts. By adapting the driver innovation to their putters, TaylorMade executives say Rossa finally is poised for a breakout year.

“We’ve delivered with drivers, and we’re doing the same with Rescues,” says Sean Toulon, TaylorMade’s general manager. “The consumer research that comes back to us shows the amount of trust they have in our technology. Right now, they believe.”

Determined to capitalize on that momentum, TaylorMade is introducing the AGSI: a putterface insert 444 333made of Titallium – a durable, seven-metal alloy that is 65 percent less dense than steel – and scored with 12 CNC-milled grooves. Unlike iron grooves, each AGSI channel is filled with a soft polymer to dampen vibration at impact. More important, the grooves help the insert deform at impact and make direct contact with the cover of the ball. This activity, company officials say, helps impart forward spin rather than backspin, greatly reducing bounce and skid and creating a smoother, truer roll.

With this technology, TaylorMade expects to double its unit market share for putters – now hovering at around 5 percent at on- and off-course retailers, according to research firm Golf Datatech LLC.

Says Toulon: “I’d be shocked if it didn’t happen. The products are right, they’re priced right. They’re going to get more exposure than a TaylorMade putter has ever gotten.”

If such growth is achieved, Rossa would rival Scotty Cameron for third place in the category, behind dominant category leader Odyssey and No. 2 Ping.

TaylorMade is leading the charge with seven new Rossa models and backing them with its most aggressive putter marketing campaign. This summer, it plans to send a “viral marketing” e-mail campaign – featuring a six-minute video clip of the new putters – to a targeted audience of 600,000. (Pass-along by recipients could expand viewership to 2 million.)

But some skeptics question how much TaylorMade can truly move the needle in this category. They argue that putters are no more than a “flavor of the month” to TaylorMade executives who acknowledge that metalwoods have been, are, and always will be, priority No. 1.

Furthermore, they say AGSI lacks the originality of r7’s moveable-weight technology, which clearly delivered a “wow” factor. Several putter companies, past and present, have touted various designs in selling the topspin-for-better-roll story. Among them: TearDrop, Yes! and Aserta.

But TaylorMade officials insist AGSI technology is superior, and that they can tell their product story “better and louder” than competitors. Expect TaylorMade to attempt to make buzz words such as “launch condition” as much a part of putter-speak as they are of driver vernacular. (The company says proper putter loft and ball flight are precursors to a roll with forward spin).

Toulon also says management, which has been “lenient” about letting marquee staff players wield putters from other manufacturers, will toughen endorsement policies. With a better Rossa product to offer, he says, TaylorMade “can take a different approach now when we go into contract renegotiations.” A top priority: Get Retief Goosen, Mike Weir and Darren Clarke into the Rossa fold.

At the very least, these efforts should elevate Rossa to new heights and allow the division to finally begin fulfilling its lofty promise.

When they established Rossa as an independent unit, TaylorMade officials envisioned Rossa quickly challenging the category’s top brands. It spiked sales in Japan, but domestically Rossa has done little more than hold TaylorMade’s place in the putter market.

“We thought Rossa would have caught on a little bit sooner than it actually did,” Toulon says. But he concedes resources didn’t match expectations. “It was supposed to have its own budget, its own P&L. But it didn’t really happen that way. The money that would get allocated to Rossa would end up finding its way back to drivers somehow.”

He says the advent of AGSI, however, reflects TaylorMade’s growing expertise and commitment in the putter category.

“At the time of Rossa’s launch, I could count on one hand the number of people we had working on it,” Toulon says. “Today, there are 25 to 30 people that are very involved, maybe not 100 percent of the time, but Rossa is a good chunk of what they do. It’s a big difference.”

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