Accenture leaves Tiger in the rough

Published: Dec 17, 2009


Heard any good Tiger Woods jokes lately? Because Accenture sure has.

Unless you’re like me and are more enamored with the fast-paced thrills of competitive speed skating, you may have noticed that Accenture made the inevitable move to cut ties with professional golfer/amateur lothario Tiger Woods. Today The New York Times ran an article describing the lengths Accenture has taken in erasing any sign of Tiger’s association. While there was no doubt that new ad campaigns would roll out soon—replacing the now chuckle-inducing images of Woods currently seen in airports and industry magazines—it’s almost sad to hear of company reps tearing up posters and stationary, like a bad high school breakup.

The company's action is thus far the most dramatic taken by any of Woods’ numerous sponsors—though well justified. While companies like Nike and Gatorade have other big names to draw on, Accenture was the one with the most to lose from exposure to Tiger’s myriad infidelities, given that his image was tied indelibly to theirs. And in an aggressive and widely conservative industry, a sex scandal this prominent is more than just a liability—it’s an outright open wound.

In the past weeks, those familiar with Accenture’s Tiger-centric ads had more than a good laugh at the firm’s expense. It wasn’t much of a stretch, with even the most tenuous double-entendres one can derive from slogans like "It's what you do next that counts" and "We know what it takes to be a Tiger." Even Naomi had some fun here last week with the company's “Go on, be a Tiger” tagline. But that’s all just the lighter side of the blemish this leaves on Accenture. As a firm courting clients in numerous industries, each with varying sensitivities to this kind of messy subject, it may see its client list take a hit; so is it any wonder Accenture can’t do enough to distance itself?

On a broad scale, this is nothing new in the world of spokespersons. Another article from the Times raises a viable point: People, famous or not, are fallible, and you’re unlikely to find a celeb whose skeletons in the closet can’t be dug up in the age of Facebook and TMZ. The article cites incidents like that of Michael Phelps, who put Kellogg’s on damage control when the Olympic champ and Wheaties model was photographed with a bong; Phelps was disowned, and his discontinued Wheaties boxes are now a collector’s item. Other shamed pitchmen come to mind, from O.J. Simpson and Mike Tyson, to Martha Stewart and Pee-Wee Herman. Tiger himself might recall Fuzzy Zoeller, who lost a number of sponsorships after making a “fried chicken” crack about Woods. So perhaps it’s time we outgrow the old gimmick of celebrity endorsements.

But this also brings things into perspective for the rest of us. If there’s a lesson to be learned, it’s that no one is too big to fail—even a squeaky-clean Tiger Woods can go down in flames, and take you with him. Staff and executives alike should see themselves just as much representatives of their firms as their mascots, and their errors in judgment can damage the company. Remember Jerome Jacobson and Simon Marketing? Jacobson, Simon’s chief of security, was behind the McDonald’s Monopoly scam, where prize pieces were kept from reaching customers (and saved for Jerome and his accomplices); while only Jacobson was prosecuted, the mess ruined Simon and its parent company, Cyrk. In a more recent example, the jury’s still out on how the Anil Kumar situation will play for McKinsey, but having your exec selling off client information is never good for PR.

So pity not the Tiger; while many of his sponsors are drawing back, most are sticking with him. If anything, pity the poor schlubs at Accenture who now have to white-out Woods’ name from every ad, PowerPoint template, slide, business card and cheap novelty visor handed out at company picnics. It’s the price they pay for promoting themselves on the imaginary perfection of one imperfect man.

-Alex Tuttle, Vault Web Content Intern