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Although crisis management is based on getting out the facts as quickly as possible, a key question raised by the Woods episode is: Will the public be lenient in its thinking about such an overwhelming favorite?
“It’s not good publicity, but it’s not damaging the Tiger Woods brand,” Robert Passikoff, president of Brand Keys research consultants. “He’s asked for his privacy and I think people are willing to give it to him.”
Beyond sheer charisma, Woods and his many sponsors have traded on the golfer’s athletic prowess, discipline and sophistication, characteristics that have created a devoted legion of fans. Their loyalty “is some of the highest we’ve ever measured — people are six times more likely to give him the benefit of the doubt than the average brand,” Passikoff said.
Kellogg’s dropped the popular swimmer Michael Phelps as an endorser of Corn Flakes and Frosted Flakes soon after the winner of a record eight gold medals at the 2008 Summer Olympic Games was photographed allegedly using a bong and marijuana. But after a three-month suspension, he returned to competition in May with marketing partners such as Warnaco Group’s Speedo still in the fold.
What is changing for Woods, though, is the golf great’s image as someone who’s almost perfect, marketing experts observed. “He is perceived to be above speculation about anything bad going on with him,” said Irma Zandl, president of Zandl Group. “This suggests he’s more human.” Still, Zandl projects “It won’t hurt his pocketbook.”
Noting Woods has been “thrown into the mouth of the gossip mill,” futurist Faith Popcorn said the car accident and rumors about his personal life “make him more mortal, more like us.”
“It’s like brain candy,” said Popcorn, chief executive officer of Brain Reserve. “It’s a diversion — are Tiger Woods and his wife getting along? Is Tiger Woods having an affair?”