New Nike Tiger ad: Tasteless or brilliant?

A screenshot from the new Nike commercial featuring Tiger Woods.

No surprise, Nike is the first one back.

That is, to be the first of Tiger Woods’ sponsors to feature him in a TV spot since his epic fall from grace.

And no surprise, Nike’s new ad is the subject of water cooler conversations, morning news shows and rush-hour radio chatter.

Even less surprising? Some people think it’s creative genius; others hate it.

If sparking controversy is a Nike advertising specialty, then this spot was destined to fulfill its mission. After all, how do you regain use of your marquee pitchman when his infamous sex scandal has belittled him to nothing more than a late-night TV punchline? It’s not like you can just trot him out to promote your latest driver.

So, this is what Wieden & Kennedy, Nike’s long-time agency, did: For the eve of Woods’ return to competition at Augusta National, W&K created a spot, filmed in black and white, that shows a single-camera angle slowly zeroing in on a solemn-looking Tiger Woods. Between intermittent camera flashes, a familiar voice addresses Woods. It belongs to his late father, Earl.

“I want to find out what your thinking was, I want to find out what your feelings are, and, did you learn anything?”

Fade to black. End spot.

It’s an attempt clearly to position Woods as a man who’s ready to show the world that’s he learned from his egregious mistakes – to return as a winner in every sense of the word. The ad’s sudden ending even feels like a cliff-hanger, urging fans to wait and behold.

After finishing his opening round at Augusta National, Woods shared his thoughts about the ad. “I think it’s very apropos,” he said. “It’s amazing how it, how my dad can speak to me from different ways, even when he’s long gone. He’s still helping me.”

Reaction to the TV spot has been immediate. I checked the advertising industry’s bible, Adage.com, and discovered no shortage of opinions. Here’s a sampling of readers’ feedback:

• “It’s a nice first step to re-invent Tiger and Nike’s relationship with one another and with its audience.”

• “Using a dead father and a sick golfer for profit is so creepy, it’s beyond words. . . Nike has also ruined their brand image in my eyes. But, hey, they’re getting press, so that’s all that matters, right?”

• “I think the ad reminds people of Tiger’s incredible vulnerability at a time when he is apparently showing progress. . .”

• “I thought Tiger was finally, maybe, human after this debacle. Whoops, my bad, he’s an ad machine. Thanks for reminding us Nike.”

Regard Nike – and the spot – however you wish, but remember Nike’s a business that only functions by championing athletes. Its success has been built on the belief that athletes are inspirational, especially those who fail – and recover.

Tasteless or brilliant? You be the judge.

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