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How Could Tiger, Nike and Donny Be So Dumb?

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Nike's much mocked and maligned Tiger ad is one week old and hasn't gotten any better or smarter with age. Only someone colossally absorbed in old-style advertising could like this 30 seconds of offensive film and, of course, Donny Deutsch does. The rest of humanity recognizes manipulation, lies and insincerity when they see it. Everywhere you look on the web (details to follow), the verdict is in. People are voting roughly two-to-one that Nike is guilty of criminal stupidity. "Creepy" is the favored descriptor. But Donny, the self-appointed guardian of old-fashioned advertising, has a different word for Nike: "Bravo!"

There's a critical lesson to be learned from the unholy trinity of Tiger, Donny and Nike because they share the most unattractive and counterproductive trait of traditional advertising: They tend to be stunningly self-absorbed; to think (and talk) only about themselves. Their solipsism answers the key question posed by Nike's decision to hawk golf gear with a poorly concocted, patently false story featuring two unfaithful men, one dead: How do ostensibly smart people make such dumb moves?

First, let's all agree that the rancidness of the ad is now beyond debate, not withstanding Deutsch's characterization of the thing on national television as "stunningly brilliant." No matter who is asked about the Nike ad--and no matter what the question is--the answers pile up against it.
Reuters asked if its readers thought it helped Tiger's image; two-thirds of nearly 1,200 people said no. Washington Post readers were asked if the ad is in poor taste and, out of 1,350 folks, 63% said yes. People.com asked whether the ad is "manipulative" or "moving" and 69% voted "manipulative." (People didn't see fit to reveal the raw number of voters but, hey, it's a popular site.) USAToday offered a choice of "creepy" or "cool" and 65% of 2,414 people voted "creepy." (All numbers in this paragraph were gathered on the day this post was written.)

None of these online polls was scientific. But a real survey by HCD Research confirms the consensus of the web: The top two reactions to the ad were confusion (44%) and skepticism (37%), as MediaPost's MarketingDaily reported.

Most tellingly, according to HCD, viewers who rated Nike brand as "favorable" or "extremely favorable" decreased "from 92% prior to viewing the video to 79% after viewing the video." Tiger's personal ratings also dropped and 29% of viewers said the ad made them less likely to buy stuff from Nike. So that debate is over. The ad was crap and counterproductive.

Now back to the real question: How the hell did this happen?

The answer lies in the nature of traditional advertising, which is revealed in Deutsch's effusive language. Emoting on the Today Show on the day after the ad first aired, Duetsch described it to a skeptical Meredith Viera as "one of the marketing strokes of genius of the last 10 years." (Note: Deutsch begins talking about 3:44 into the 6 minute 39 second video.)

Continuing for about another three minutes, Deutsch proposed that in the morality play of the ad, Earl Woods, Tiger's formerly philandering and now dead dad, was "the voice of God" and a representation of Tiger's conscience. Deutsch then asserted, "This is their brand. They have to protect their brand...." He added, in case Meredith might have mistaken the ad for a video novella about life in hell, "This is an ad. Nike has a responsibility to their shareholders to do what's best for Nike. I look at that brand and I say, 'That's a brave brand....' I give it a 10 plus plus. The folks at Nike: Bravo!"

OK. Bravo, Donny. But think for a moment about what you mentioned and didn't mention. You talked about "brand" and "brand" again. In fact, you mentioned brand four times. You talked about "shareholders" and "genius." Wait. Did you leave anything out? No? How about the audience? Us. The poor slobs who watch this nonsense and then either buy or don't buy Nike's stuff. Donny, you never mentioned us. Not even as "consumers." (Your favorite word for the human beings in the audience.)

And there's the problem shared by Tiger, Nike, Wieden and Kennedy (the agency that made the commercial), Donny and too much of TV advertising.

Tiger is what happens to a man who lives only for himself. Nike's Tiger ad is the sort of thing that can be produced only by a brand that is thinking exclusively about its own message and is clueless (or, worse, doesn't give a damn) about its customers' desires and sensibilities. Donny's opinion of the Tiger ad could be held only by someone so focused on his own frame of reference that he can't imagine how most of the rest of the world feels.

As my friend, colleague and fellow HuffPost blogger Keith Blanchard said, "Nike et al, through their tin-ear selfishness, are not being faithful to THEIR partner: us. This ad says Nike doesn't care about our needs, only their own." The extended cheating metaphor, as Keith points out, is virtually endless.

A piece of advice to Wieden and Kennedy: Since so many good journalists are out of work, hire one to sit in your meetings. Tell him or her that their sole job is to shout out, at appropriate times, "Hey, guys, it's just not true, no one will believe it and everyone will hate is if we say that." That's a good first step out of the bad old ways of traditional advertising.

PS. In late breaking news, ABC reports (quoting People magazine) that Tiger's wife, Elin Norgreden, is so "miffed" by the Nike ad (her adjective, apparently is "cheesy") that it has pushed her the final step toward divorce. I'm pretty sure we can look forward to the American Dairy Association warning that exposure to the Nike ad can spoil fresh milk. Such is the power of really terrible ideas.