AP Photo/Gillette, Phelan M. Ebenhack, File
Looking to preserve its clean-cut image, Boston shaving company Gillette became the first major sponsor to bench Tiger Woods as its pitchman, a day after the golfing icon publicly acknowledged that he's had extramarital affairs.
The company, which has featured Woods as the centerpiece of its ad campaign "Gillette Champions" since 2007, said today that it would immediately limit the golfer's presence in its print, television, and online ads. Woods, who has made headlines in the last week for allegedly cheating on his wife with 13 different women, acknowledged his infidelity on Friday on his website and said that he was taking a break from professional golf.
Gillette spokesman Mike Norton said that while the company's decision to reduce Woods's role in its marketing was a direct result of Woods's announcement, Gillette, a unit of Procter & Gamble Co., is not severing all ties with Woods.
"Tiger is still part of Gillette,'' Norton said. " We support him as he takes a break from his professional career and that's why we're supporting him by limiting his role in our marketing programs."
Norton did not give an exact date when Gillette would limit Woods presence in ads, but said displays that already feature Woods' image in retail stores may be affected as well. He said the company will continue using other sporting stars in its "Champions" campaign including New York Yankees player Derek Jeter; Swiss tennis star Roger Federer; and French soccer star Thierry Henry. Federer and Henry starred in the "champions" campaign with Woods; the trio were featured as global ambassadors for Gillette.
"The exposure of Tiger in the ads will be limited but beyond that, if he was the focus of the ad, then we won't be using that ad,'' he said.
Advertising observers say the decision by Gillette may drive other companies to walk away from the golf star, who was ranked as the world's fourth wealthiest celebrity by Forbes magazine earlier this year. Woods is the corporate pitchman for companies including American Express, Accenture global management consulting firm, and Nike. His mix of tournaments and endorsement deals, which are estimated at $110 million a year, helped catapult him to be the first sports star to earn $1 billion.
Woods' image has been tarnished, advertising observers say. Although Gillette is the first major sponsor to distance itself from Woods, AT&T said that it is reviewing the relationship, according to the Associated Press.
Woods, a once prominent TV presence, hasn't been seen in TV ads since two days after the accident in a Nov. 29 Gillette ad, according to TV ratings company Nielsen. And a survey released Friday by Argyle Executive Forum found that 76 percent of marketers said they would cancel, reduce, or suspend their business relationship with Woods, if they are currently using the golfer as an endorser.
"The Tiger Woods story is playing itself into a worse and worse situation for him and the products he endorses," said Chris Cakebread, a Boston University ad professor. "It's all about sex now.'"
Despite the controversy surrounding Woods, most of his major sponsors have either stood by the golfer or remained silent on the matter. For instance, Nike, which has a reported $650 million golf line centered around Woods, continues to back Woods.
"He is the best golfer in the world and one of the greatest athletes of his era," said a Nike statement, according to The Associated Press.
EA Sports, a video game company, did not immediately respond to messages today. Neither did Accenture, which no longer has Woods on its website.
John Fisher, a sports brand marketing professor at Babson College, said Gillette had to take action to preserve its reputation as a "generational brand" with consumers. Fisher said that unlike Nike, a brand that is personified by an athlete's performance on the field, Gillette banks on its pitchmen's image off the field to promote its products.
"Nike has the benefit of saying, we are an athletic company and we support his athletic prowess,'' said Fisher, former chief executive of sneaker company Saucony. "Part of Gillette's value is the reputation and image that Tiger projects. They are taking an appropriate level of moderate action for a conservative brand and New England-based company."
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