This week Nike released a "controversial" new commercial to hype Tiger Woods' return to golf . Watch it only if you want to be depressed. Shot in grainy black-and-white, the entire ad is 33 seconds of Woods gazing mournfully at the camera as the ghostly voice of his late father Earl dishes Ward Cleaver-ish advice on learning from mistakes. The commercial is, at best, creepy. It feels like Nike is exploiting a dead man to gain sympathy for their biggest star. Probably because that's exactly what they're doing.
That doesn't mean the ad isn't effective. Exploitative or not, letting us watch Tiger be scolded by his father, the only person on earth whose opinion ever seemed to matter to him, is a masterful piece of pop psychology.
What's really disturbing about the ad, though, is how normal it seems for a shoe company to make a commercial addressing an athlete's sex life.
Nike, as you may know, sells sporting goods. Ultimately, the company only cares about Tiger to the extent he can help them sell mountains of high-priced golf shoes, clubs, shirts, hats. Theoretically consumers will buy golf gear endorsed by Woods in order to emulate his golf game, not his sex life. That's theory. The reality is that no guy ever buys a cap emblazoned by a TW logo because it protects his head better than any other hat.
Nike had to do something. Making this ad, they acknowledged the obvious truth that Woods' image off the golf course is as important as how he performs on it. More insidiously, though, the company has officially claimed ownership of the scandal—and of Tiger's inevitable "comeback." Woods' personal life has been branded with a Swoosh. His dead father and maritial problems have become just two more ways to sell shoes. Is anybody really all that surprised?