For Accenture, breaking up with Tiger Woods is hard to do

Corporate consultancy Accenture announced Sunday that it is dumping Tiger Woods, but it has bound its image so closely to Woods that it even put him on its stationery.

By , Staff Writer

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    Tiger Woods follows through during the second round of the Accenture Match Play Golf Championship tournament at The Gallery Golf Club at Dove Mountain, in Marana, Ariz., in this Feb. 21 file photo.
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Dropping Tiger Woods is not as easy as taking down a few billboards or canceling a media campaign.

For Accenture, the corporate consultancy that on Sunday announced it would discontinue its six-year relationship with the celebrity golfer, Woods is so tightly intertwined in every component of its brand – appearing even on company stationery – that it must now essentially start from scratch to redefine itself to the public and its clients.

The enormity of the marketing challenge facing Accenture is leading some in the marketing industry to take a look at the wisdom of resting an entire corporate identity on a single individual.

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“No matter how blue chip a stock is, it can always go bad on you,” says Jeremy Mullman, sport marketing reporter for Advertising Age.

An unusual sponsorship

To be sure, celebrity endorsements are not rare, but they typically do not last as long as the six years Accenture spent with Woods, says Mr. Mullman. Part of Mr. Woods’s allure – apart form his phenomenal talent – is that he plays golf, a sport largely free from the issues plaguing other sports, from drug use to violent and criminal behavior.

While Woods collected revenue from a pool of high profile sponsors, including Nike, Gatorade, and video game-maker Electronic Arts, his relationship with Accenture was considered unusual. Woods did not endorse a particular Accenture product or service, but instead became the face of the company itself.

“Most [companies] don’t invest or put all their eggs in one basket like this,” says Nina Lentini, editor of MediaPost’s Marketing Daily newsletter. “We now see it takes one scandal to make all the cards tumble.”

Bigger than the brand

Woods’s face appeared in print and broadcast campaigns across the world. These messages were often said little or nothing about what services or products Accenture actually provides – helping businesses improve their management, technology, and outsourcing. Instead, they only framed a picture of Woods against cryptic maxims: "It’s what you do next that counts," "Opportunity isn't always obvious," "The road to high performance isn't always paved,” or "We know what it takes to be a Tiger."

The strategy implied that Woods transcended the brand itself, says Ms. Lentini. “So [his falling is] a huge event.”

Past what the public saw, Woods’s face also embossed internal communications to convey Accenture’s corporate identity to those who worked there and to clients it meant to court.

"Tiger Woods is on everything, on all of the PowerPoint presentations internally, slides and all that," Tristan Nadine Andrews of Chicago, a former project management analyst at Accenture, told the Wall Street Journal.

It will stand as a cautionary tale for corporate marketing campaigns in the future. “There is a certain irony that a consulting firm, which gave advice for a living, is learning this lesson,” says Advertising Age’s Mullman. “It’s an awful risky thing to do and it worked very well for them for a long time. But now they’re basically starting over.”

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