Why Accenture is the first company to ditch Tiger Woods

Accenture announced Sunday that it is ending its sponsorship of Tiger Woods because of the current scandal. Accenture tied its brand to Woods more closely than did any other company.

By , Staff Writer

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    In this is April 11, 2008, file photo showing Tiger Woods hitting out of a bunker on the second hole during the second round of the 2008 Masters golf tournament at the Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Ga.
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Accenture became the first sponsor to drop Tiger Woods because of the scandal surrounding his confessed infidelity.

The move by the consulting company, announced Sunday, comes on the heels of several tepid statements of support this weekend from Mr. Woods's sponsors. It also comes after Woods released a statement Saturday admitting to infidelity and announcing that he planned to take an "indefinite" break from golf to get his personal life in order.

Accenture's announcement raises questions about how Woods and his team of advisers have handled the daily allegations of mistresses. Woods's repeated insistence that he be given privacy to try to heal the relationship with his wife, while understandable, has allowed the story to spiral out of control while he has remained largely a bystander.

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This put Acccenture "in a more precarious position than anybody else," David Martin, president of Interbrand Corp.’s New York division, told Bloomberg.

More than any other company, Accenture used its advertising campaign to tie its own values to Woods, including the slogan: "Go on. Be a Tiger." While these values were always related to his golfing prowess – tenacity, strength, innovation – Woods's precipitous and tawdry fall from grace made it impossible for Accenture to keep him as essentially the face of the company.

"For the past six years, Accenture and Tiger Woods have had a very successful sponsorship arrangement and his achievements on the golf course have been a powerful metaphor for business success in Accenture's advertising," the company said in a statement. "However, given the circumstances of the last two weeks, after careful consideration and analysis, the company has determined that he is no longer the right representative for its advertising."

But this does not mean that the rest of Woods's sponsors will inevitably follow suit.

"It's a question of how a company is using the relationship," says John Bevilaqua, head of Creative Marketing Strategies in Atlanta.

This weekend, Gillette announced it was pulling its advertisements featuring Woods, saying: “As Tiger takes a break from the public eye, we will support his desire for privacy by limiting his role in our marketing programs.” AT&T added in its own statement this weekend: “We are presently evaluating our ongoing relationship with him."

But neither has tied their brand so closely to Woods, and neither has severed ties – yet.

What Woods must do, marketing strategists say, is balance two very different demands. Staying quiet and dealing with things at home might be the best course for his marriage, but it allows the media cyclone to go on unhindered.

"He needs to put more focus on stopping what's going on now," says William Chipps of marketing strategist IEG's Sponsorship Report.

His decision to quit golf for a time also is a double-edged sword.

When Woods announced his hiatus Saturday, his storyline changed subtly – at least for a day. The Tiger Woods daily diet was no longer just about his list of alleged mistresses or reports of Elin asking to revise their prenuptual agreement. It was also: How will golf survive?

Citing an oft-repeated statistic, Neal Pilson, former head of CBS Sports, says ratings for final-round coverage of a golf tournament go up 30 to 50 percent if Woods is in contention. Woods's decision might be unwelcome news for the Professional Golfers Association. But for Tiger, it could be quite the opposite. If his “indefinite” break stretches through the Masters and the US Open at historic Pebble Beach, fans could begin clamoring for his return – whatever his foibles.

On the other hand, Woods has always made his endorsement money and his fans for his golf, not for his image off the links. So it might behoove him to return to golf as soon as possible, difficult though it may be.

"At the end of the day, it all turns back to onfield performance," says Mr. Chipps.

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