Selling damaged goods

Suppose you ran a company, and you found that there was a problem with one of your major products. What’s the first thing you do? You do what any person would do when you make a serious mistake, apologize.  You may run a full-page ad in the newspaper as Toyota did when the acceleration problems became public.

When you look at it this way, Nike’s seemingly strange ad with Tiger Woods and the voice-over of his father starts to make sense:

Regardless of how you feel about Tiger Woods the man, Tiger Woods the product is currently damaged goods. He didn’t deliver on what was promised on the packaging: professionalism, dignity, style, and grace. You can rightly say that it’s not realistic to expect an imperfect human being to live up to such unrealistically high standards. But he packaged himself (or let himself be packaged) as something more than human. His actions became more than just a human failing. It violated the contract he made with us as consumers who enjoyed the spectacle of his play and purchased the products he promoted.

So, he had to apologize. This ad is Tiger and Nike’s effort to recreate the full-page apology in the newspaper on TV.

Is it effective? Not in my opinion. He looks like a naughty little boy who is begging his daddy for forgiveness. But the message is still there: He knows he was wrong, and he apologizes for it.    

Is it enough?  No. It takes a long time for the public to regain trust after it has been broken. Tylenol had to struggle for years after someone poisoned their product to rebuild market share. Major League Baseball needed Cal Ripken, Jr. to recover from the 1994 strike and cancellation of the World Series. Some companies like ValuJet never recovered. Tiger Woods will need to keep playing quality golf, and to show quality conduct off the course, before memories of his scandal fade from the public’s mind.

But an apology is a necessary first step. It isn’t the last one.