Another day, another 'controversial' advert from Nike, another Twitter-storm in a teacup.
As you've probably heard, Tiger Woods is once again the No.1 golfer in the world, ousting Rory McIlroy after winning at the Bay Hill classic on Monday. All he's missing now is a major to crown the comeback, and no doubt he'll be installed as firm favourite for the Masters at Augusta in a couple of weeks time. Nike decided to celebrate the achievement in their inimitable Nike style; a shot of Tiger simply framed with the quote "Winning takes care of everything".
It's a touch of brilliance. Full of classic Nike defiance - the inspirational, no-strapline-necessary stuff that characterises the brand and everything it stands for. But as is often the case these days, the approach has rubbed many inhabitants of the Twitterverse and the blogosphere up the wrong way. There are those who chastise Nike for deliberately ignoring the scandal and moral ambiguities surrounding its star golfer - and yes, that's still Tiger, Rory fans. Hundreds took to Twitter to decry Nike for trivialising his misdemeanours. Of course they did. Honestly though, does this ad really offend? Or does the compulsion for a moral crusade and political correctness simply make the prudes feel like they *should* be offended?
So here's why this is a brilliant piece of communication:
- It's provocative. You, I and everyone else knows that Nike know exactly what they're doing - as does Tiger. Let's not kid ourselves that he doesn't have a say in this work. He was the one happy to produce that (also controversial) 2010 spot featuring the eerie voiceover of his late father Earl, questioning the decisions he made in his life.
But it's got everyone talking about Tiger. Again. And it's got everyone talking about the fact he's winning. Again.
Questions will hang over him for the rest of his career as some fans - the minority - battle their own demons over whether or not to forgive his misdeeds and support him on a sporting level. That's inevitable. Nike simply dares you to take into consideration his misdeeds and enter into that debate - while all it concerns itself with is winning.
- Behind the provocation, the core idea lies in something quite innocent. Should anyone get too worked up about this, the original quote from Tiger was specifically in response to a question at last year's Tour Championship regarding the various comments flying around the media. With the possibility of Tiger taking back the No.1 spot, Greg Norman had claimed that Woods was intimidated by McIlroy. Really? Woods wasn't interested in what anyone else was doing, "just winning,'' he said. ''Winning takes care of everything.''
- The line is right. Whether you like it or not, winning does take care of everything. We're talking about a global sporting superstar here. Everything he does - everything he's ever done - has been about being the best. The ends justify the means. We love a success story, we love redemption and we love winning in general. Start off with a sincere apology, make time for a quick appearance on Oprah and as long as there's an authenticity of remorse we can believe in, we'll buy into the comeback kid. Time doesn't always cure all, but winning does take care of everything.
Nike - and in particular Nike Golf President Cindy David - knows exactly what they're doing here. Every possible outcome would have been considered. In fact they probably would have banked on and embraced a minor ripple from those quick to judge. This is a smart, innovative, globally revered brand known for pushing the boundaries. Nike stands for an energy and ethos that flows through everything from marketing to products to endorsements to technology to communications - it's why we as consumers buy into the brand whether we're running in it, watching someone slam dunk in it, or spending a frankly unwarrantable amount of cash on an oscillating magnet housed in a neat wristband and connected to your mac.
From 'Write the Future' to 'Witness', right the way back to the core 'Just Do It' message, the very essence of Nike is about stripping away everything other than a single mission statement. It stands for the simplicity of a single, undeniable focus, and that's what can make people feel slightly uneasy. But it's also inherently linked to the world of sport and success, whether that's breaking 10 seconds for the 100 metres, or getting off your butt and taking your first, gentle new year jog. Nike would say that winning is for everyone. The brand is for athletes everywhere, and by Nike's own definition, if you have a body, you're an athlete.
Sure, we could spend time debating at what exact point Woods can be forgiven. Nike isn't interested, and nor is Tiger. Deep down, they know their audience isn't either; that's for the news stations, the sports programmes and the chat shows. Instead, it's that bloody-minded, uncompromising, win-at-all-costs primal desire of athletes and sportsmen and women everywhere that Nike engages with. It sparks a fire, but in the right way, because let's face it - in a month's time, we all will have moved on. But Nike owned the moment; and what could be more appropriate for the brand than that simple, constant objective?