New Tiger controversy

Few ads in the entire history of advertising have been riper for parody than Nike’s new Tiger Woods commercial, with the voice of the golfer’s late father seemingly admonishing him for his transgressions.

In the stark

In the stark

NEW YORK — Few ads in the entire history of advertising have been riper for parody than Nike’s new Tiger Woods commercial, with the voice of the golfer’s late father seemingly admonishing him for his transgressions.

And so within hours of its first airing, this unusual (and, some say, totally creepy) ad had spawned a new generation of Dad-talking-to-Tiger videos.

And a more serious question, too: Even by the standards of edgy advertising, did both Nike and Tiger cross a line?

To be sure, Nike is relishing the attention. That is, after all, what advertising is about: Cutting through the clutter.

And Nike has a history not only of daring ads, but of notable ones featuring Woods. Its 1996 introductory “Hello World” ad noted he would still be banned from certain clubs due to the colour of his skin, and asked, “Are you ready for me?”

But this is a different Tiger — the post-scandal Tiger, the one in the midst of a carefully crafted comeback from the sordid revelations of his multiple affairs. The Nike ad shocked some both for its use of a dead man’s voice — out of context — and, perhaps more, its use of Tiger’s infidelity to, well, sell merchandise.

“It’s a new genre of marketing: I’m sorry — ka-ching!” commented Marian Salzman, advertising analyst and president of Euro RSCG Worldwide public relations. Wrote Salon.com: “It’s not moving. It’s just sickening.”

Others, though, called it potentially groundbreaking — and not just in the way it brought immediate buzz to both Nike and Woods as he competes in the Masters, his first tournament since the scandal broke late last year.

“They’ve actually called an athlete to task — and one that they’re endorsing,” said Rick Burton, sports marketing professor at Syracuse University. “They’re using advertising as a vehicle to question his motives and behaviour.”

As for Tiger himself, he told a news conference that the ad was “very apropos. I think that’s what my dad would say. It’s amazing how my dad can speak to me in different ways, even when he’s long gone.”

The ad aired Wednesday and Thursday on ESPN and the Golf Channel in U.S. and is not scheduled to air again — at least in its current form. Woods stands expressionless, his only movement a few blinks. The ad is in black and white, adding to the sense of starkness.

Then comes the voice of Earl Woods, who died in 2006. (Nike confirmed to The Associated Press on Friday that the audio was from a 2004 documentary. In that documentary, the elder Woods compared his parenting style with that of his wife.)

“Tiger, I am more prone to be inquisitive, to promote discussion,” the father says. “I want to find out what your thinking was. I want to find out what your feelings are, and did you learn anything.” It ends with the trademark Nike swoosh.

“Well, that’ll make you wanna buy shoes, won’t it?” quipped ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel Wednesday night. He followed with a parody in which Tiger was clobbered with a newspaper while his mother, voiced by an actress, berated him mercilessly.

Also mining the comic potential was Stephen Colbert, who remarked that Woods had proved he was “still the best at bringing his steely focus to the thing he loves: endorsing products.”

The Colbert parodies featured fatherly commentary from Ward Cleaver in Leave it to Beaver (“The sad thing is, there are some men my age who are still trying to be little boys”); actor Gene Wilder in Young Frankenstein (“You are not evil. You are good!”); and Colbert himself as Woods’ agent, pitching the new ad concept (“It makes the audience feel like THEY’RE your father . . . If you love it, just blink.”)

Then there were the numerous spoofs across the web.

“Hey Tiger, it’s me, Dad. I need you to do me a huge, huge favour,” an actor says in one, riffing on the infamous voice mail Woods allegedly left a paramour. “You know that last commercial where you used my voice to promote the Nike brand? I would appreciate if you would not do that ever again.”

Another turns the Woods ad into a Calvin Klein fragrance commercial — for “Secret Obsession.” There’s the Lion King version, too — where the spirit of the late father, Mufasa, counsels Simba, his son who has left the fold. “How can I go back?” Simba asks. “I’m not what I used to be.”

Then there’s the spoof that uses the audio of David After Dentist, the enormously popular web video where a father films his young son who’s high on gas from the dentist.

“Is this real life?” the son asks. “Yes, this is real life,” Dad answers.

A Nike spokesman, Derek Kent, asked for comment, said Friday that the Woods ad “addresses his time away from the game using the powerful words of his father.” He declined further comment.

By at least one immediate measure, the ad was working. According to Zeta Interactive, a firm that tracks Internet buzz, it received 43 per cent more online buzz than the much-discussed Google Super Bowl ad did the day after the game — and that ad had a higher buzz ranking than any Super Bowl ad this year.

The firm, which looks at blogs, message boards and social media posts to analyze the feelings of potential consumers, also said the overwhelming majority of online posts about the commercial — 86 per cent — were positive.

One marketing executive praised the company for coming out with a bold response, rather than playing it safe.

“It’s shocking for some, but it’s a strong move and probably a very wise one,” said Laura Ries, president of Ries and Ries, an Atlanta branding firm.

“We’ll see if it will pay off in the long run. But in the short run, they’ve sure got people talking about Tiger and Nike.”

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