Tiger Woods makes his return to golf this afternoon at the Masters. Ending what seems like an eternal wait for golf fans, a media circus, casual bystanders and the few sponsors that stood behind him. His tee off at 1:42 p.m. ET will signal the next step of his rebranding from the downward spiral he initiated on November 27 in a car crash outside his Florida home.
After months of silence, Tiger and co. began the rebranding on February 19 in a heavily-controlled and choreographed apology. They took no questions and although they signaled that a return to golf wasn’t imminent, word spread a few weeks later that Tiger Woods would return at the Masters. They followed by making Woods available for exclusive interviews with Tom Rinaldi of ESPN and Kelly Tilghman of Golf Channel. Questions were vetted and once again Tiger managed to say something without really saying anything at all. Only this Monday at the Masters did Tiger address questions without parameters from a throng of reporters. To be fair, he answered every question and finally seemed genuine.
Galleries around Augusta, who’ve been following Tiger through his practice rounds this week, have marveled at his interaction with fans (something that has only occurred during disputes with them in the past). Jim Nantz, who will call the Masters on CBS, is already calling Tiger a changed man.
Folks may be getting a little ahead of themselves. As I’ve heard several pundits rib on Tiger’s camp over the last couple days “A Tiger doesn’t change his stripes overnight.” Perhaps, Nike understands that. In an ad created by Nike creative partner Wieden + Kennedy that began airing on Wednesday night, Woods stairs speechless at the camera. Not appearing as a new man but someone who seeks understanding. The only voice heard is of his late father Earl, who eerily addresses Tiger’s scandal without his own knowing.
“Tiger, I am more prone to be inquisitive, to promote discussion. I want to find out what your thinking was. I want to find out what your feelings are. And did you learn anything?”
This certainly isn’t a remake of the Nike’s “Hello(again) World” Tiger ad, but a controlled message to viewers that tries to establish that Tiger is listening to his father and learning from his own missteps. Then again, nothing that Tiger has “accomplished” over the last 6 months has been awe inspiring enough to say “hello” again.
Let’s remember that Tiger’s image has been controlled since becoming a pro. During his first news conference in August 1996 to mark his pro career, he casually said “hello world.” Those in attendance and at home found it endearing. Until of course, it was revealed to be the headline for his Nike campaign that hit television sets across the world days later.
This ad from Nike is no different. Although it may draw controversy for using his late father’s voice, it stays in-line with his message to reporters and fans over the last few weeks: staying true to who he is as a person, strengthening his practice of Buddhism and introspection. This is who Tiger, and his team, want him to be during this transition period. When he has recaptured his greatness on the course (and he will), it’ll be time to say “hello” or “he’s back.” Now is not that time.
It’s shortcoming is simply that it’s another advertisement. A one-way message. It has always been with Tiger. He seeks the same control for his image that he has with a seven iron in hand at Augusta. Unfortunately, that’s not possible, especially in today’s 1,440-minute, Internet news-cycle. Fans will ultimately determine if and when Tiger is a changed man and no matter how many ads he throws their way, their words will count more than his or his late father’s in determining the future of his brand.