Tiger Woods might be in a world of hurt, but his brand is going to be just fine. For a famous athlete, he has a bland, anonymous public persona. His image is built purely on sports performance and not much else. His self-described “transgression” has not tarnished his image because, well, he lacks one.
It would have been a different story if:
- He had done something to tarnish his image as an athlete, like, say, smoke crack or take steroids. Putting his health at risk would have been in greater conflict with his brand as an athlete than cheating on his wife because his entire public persona is wrapped up in his success as a golfer.
- His behavior had alienated the middle-class Americans that corporate sponsors worry about. But marital infidelity is too common among mainstream society to tarnish his appeal. Contrast his situation with the scandal that resulted from Michael Vick’s involvement in illegal dog fighting. It’s not so much the illegality of dog fighting that turned Vick into a pariah to corporate sponsors — but rather middle-class America’s perception of dog fighting as repulsive, fringe behavior. Chances are the target demographic for Accenture (a former employer of mine) or Nike know someone personally who has had an affair. I doubt that few, if anyone, in that demographic know someone personally involved in dog fighting.
- He was a female athlete. An unspoken “boys will be boys” attitude prevails when it comes to celebrities misbehaving, a standard that does not apply to women. How marketable do you think the married Danica Patrick would be if a story broke that she was cheating on her husband, replete with saucy texts to guys and hush-hush voice mails to alleged lovers? Do you think Dara Torres, a mom and successful Olympic swimmer, could have survived a revelation about marital infidelity during the 2008 Summer Olympics?
Bottom line: Tiger Woods the brand will be just fine because Tiger Woods did nothing to hurt Tiger Woods the athlete.