Tiger Woods and Accenture: A High (and Now Low) Performance Relationship

Will Accenture's multimillion-dollar one-man marketing machine ("Go on. Be a Tiger.") have disastrous consequences for Accenture's brand and business lines, now that Woods is a pariah?

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Nevertheless, the question remains as to whether Accenture should retain Woods for the long term—especially if his golf achievements are continually overshadowed by tabloid exploits. Herbert speculates that if bad things keep piling on Woods' shoulders and Accenture's period of plausible deniability runs out (as in: We were just as surprised as everyone else!), then Accenture may have to separate itself from Woods.

Results from an Argyle Executive Forum survey of 600 marketers, which was gathered during the two days proceeding its release on Dec. 9, showed that 76 percent of marketing execs said they would "cancel, reduce or suspend their business relationship with Tiger Woods," if they were currently using the professional golfer as a celebrity endorser for their brand.

"Taking no action could end up hurting Accenture's image," Herbert says, though "it's still too early to tell." (Accenture has made no public comments on its future relationship with Woods, and its media relations did not respond to a request for an interview.)

Cut Tiger or Stay the Course?

An interesting post on the Big4.com, a community of employees who previously worked at consulting firms like Accenture, notes that Accenture is "a well-regarded, respected, squeaky-clean brand signifying class, ethics and high standards. It is a tough decision to disassociate from an advertising front man, but that front man has not kept his end of the bargain, and has caused injury to his wife and family," states the post. "Continuation will send a wrong message to Accenture's employees and clients that such behavior is not reprehensible since it can be justified to be monetarily beneficial."

But as branding experts and many others have pointed out, these types of transgressions can be smoothed over with time and strategic PR moves. There were many people cheering NFL player Michael Vick's return to the Atlanta Falcon's home stadium last weekend, where he played for years before he went to jail for running a dog-fighting ring.

As the Tiger-Accenture advertisement on the previous page ironically points out ("It's what you do next that counts"), it'll be very interesting to see what Tiger Woods and Accenture do next. Will they make a change? (You'll remember that the Accenture brand itself is relatively new; the name replaced the Andersen Consulting moniker in January 2001 after a tumultuous relationship with and separation from Arthur Andersen.)

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Coincidentally, just over a year ago, Accenture altered its Tiger campaign to address its customers' angst over the global recession, corporate downturns and market instability. In an Oct. 12, 2009, interview with BtoBonline, Teresa Poggenpohl, Accenture's executive director of global image, said: "We wanted to change the ads and evolve the message in light of the huge economic problems spreading globally...and [address] the uncertainty in the marketplace. We changed the images to show Tiger in more challenging situations. The launch ad has Tiger against a background of storm clouds, and the headline reads, 'Why high performers shine even when the sun doesn't.'"

Certainly, dark clouds are now covering the once-red-hot sun that Accenture basked under during Woods' reign as the world's most marketable and bankable athlete. The entire world will be watching Woods' and Accenture's upcoming performances—and whether those are together or apart.

UPDATE: On Dec. 13, Accenture announced that it was ending its sponsorship agreement with Tiger Woods. "For the past six years, Accenture and Tiger Woods have had a very successful sponsorship arrangement and his achievements on the golf course have been a powerful metaphor for business success in Accenture's advertising," noted the statement. "However, given the circumstances of the last two weeks, after careful consideration and analysis, the company has determined that he is no longer the right representative for its advertising."

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Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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