Tiger-gate: Accenture’s branding nightmare

Accenture just announced that, in light of the recent Tiger Woods scandals, they will be dropping the 6-year sponsorship with the golfer. This results in a massive branding and marketing headache for Accenture in more ways than one: they have to replace both internal materials and external marketing materials in 27 countries.  If you’ve been in any airport, you can appreciate the scope of this effort.

Many athletes do have “morality clauses” in their sports marketing contracts to protect a company’s brand if the athlete does anything controversial or not in line with the company’s brand. But there is a spectrum here to consider. Michael Phelps only lost some of his sponsorships but not others after being photographed smoking marijuana.  The rest of his associative traits (fierce competitor, young approachable celeb) still remain intact. In some cases, he may have even gotten new fans as a result.

But in this case, Accenture was aligning its brand with the very traits that Tiger has recently proven might not be 100% accurate. Reading some of Accenture’s ad headlines in light of the recent scandal is a bit ironic: “Go on. Be a Tiger”, “It’s not a setback. It’s a test.” and “How can you plan ahead when you can hardly see ahead?” The crux of the brand campaign was about integrity, excellence and making smart choices.  So in this case, they do indeed have cause to be concerned that Tiger’s recent actions, while poignantly human, are at odds with Accenture’s brand promise – and quite frankly, the entire Tiger brand in general.

From a pure brand perspective, it doesn’t matter what the circumstances around the scandal really turn out to be.  Accenture was banking on Woods’ “grace under pressure” mentality and high standards of excellence to align with their own brand messages. No matter what really happened, those are now not so true as they were a month ago – and Accenture really had no choice but to sever the relationship.

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