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When Tigers Cry… or, the marketing of failure

Posted by on Feb 19, 2010 in apologies, BLOG, marketing strategy, Tiger Woods | No Comments

One advantage of growing up in a staunch Roman Catholic bastion like the Philippines is that you learn from a very young age that saying sorry is a way of life. No Catholic in the world can be called as such unless they have gone through their first confession, where you sit with a list of transgressions to tell your priest, who then forgives you in the name of God and the Church.  Soul searching and humility is the lesson of confession; other people will say guilt and neurosis come out of it, but I suppose that’s for another post.

My point is, maybe Tiger Woods should have had some Sunday School in his life. Because damn, I have never seen someone as terrible at apologizing as he is.

It’s not that he didn’t give a pitch-perfect speech; for the world’s top golfer, backed by the world’s top sponsors, and handled by the world’s top image management agency (IMG), you expect nothing less. What I HAD expected though, is a sense of humility and openness that needed to be thrown into the mix. The Catholic term of it is penance – to apologize, not just with words, but with actions. 

I can’t understand IMG’s decision (or maybe it was Tiger’s?) to let the scandal go on for months without a peep from the perp, and then have him perform a semi-contrite little dance without taking questions from the audience.  
How sorry do you think a man is when he apologizes for lying to his wife and his kids and his legions of fans, BUT refuses to set the record straight? I don’t need to know the skanky details about his illicit affairs – but what about the night of the accident? What was the golf club for? How many women were there? Who was helping him get the logistics right? HOW LONG has this been going on?

Just because Tiger apologized doesn’t mean he gets to have the record wiped clean, no questions asked. It’s like stealing your father’s Porche for a joyride, coming back with the entire front end crumpled into the windshield, and expecting that your “sorry” won’t need to come with an explanation of how, why, and when.

Tiger’s lack of forthrightness reminds me of Thesis #27 in The Cluetrain Manifesto: By speaking in language that is distant, uninviting, arrogant, [companies] build walls to keep markets at bay. Until he starts acting like a human being that can truly admit to his failure, Tiger Woods shouldn’t expect the public to treat him as anything less than a shiny golf machine that’s fun to huck balls at (no pun intended).

An open and honest account of his infidelity should be treated as pledges of good will from Tiger, to show us his willingness to truly see the man he is, if only so we can cheer him on to becoming the man he wants to be.