Tiger Words or The Anatomy of The Comeback

  • Tiger Wood’s Augusta win offers digital marketers seven lessons
  • Can marketers reassess motivation&willingness to succeed beyond the norm

Tiger Words or The Anatomy of The Comeback

It was two twenty eight in the morning as I watched charged up, along with the world, when the simple four-foot putt went in. By the fine margin of one stroke, the Tiger was finally basking in sunlight after more than 11 years lost in the woods, with no Major wins.

The news of Tiger Woods’ Cadillac Escalade knocking into a fire hydrant outside his mansion almost 10 years ago was still not stale in my mind. His calamitous, spectacular fall from grace, and the subsequent wrecking of his “clean, family man” persona and his flawless brand image is widely known.

Serial infidelity plastered all over the tabloids, his game falling apart, sponsors jettisoning a tarnished name, a diminishing fear factor amongst his opponents, sex addiction therapy, highly unusual public mea culpa at a golf club, divorce, debilitating back pain, being ranked 1199 in the world in December 2017, getting arrested while heavily drugged at the wheel…if you were scripting a movie, it could not get more impossibly difficult for the hero.   

The litany of humiliation seemed endless, and the road back impossible. TV experts flayed him and the world regarded him as the punchline of jokes. (Q: What's the difference between a golf ball and a Cadillac Escalade? A: Tiger can drive the golf ball 400 yards!) 

As many Tiger Woods fans rejoiced around the world last week (I read all my 10 free New York Times articles in 2 hours the morning after he won), I realized this Comeback Moment had lessons for all of us marketers. Lessons of motivation, mindset, strategy and plain stubbornness. Sport is not life, you can argue, but it is inspiring nevertheless.

So here are seven takeaways from the Tiger Woods victory, possibly the Greatest of All Comebacks.

  1. The will to win

At the age of three, Tiger Woods was filmed saying he wanted to beat Jack Nicklaus, and Nike reminded us with a goose-bumpy ad released within moments of Tiger’s win. Tiger still has that implacable desire, 40 years later. How many marketers retain that ambition, across their storied careers? How many creative people still have that fire to do great work? Life happens, families and kids happen. Stultifying powerpoint slides, boxed in mentality and sometimes difficult clients can kill the creative spirit.

But will power in the face of adversity is the key ingredient that separates the winners from the has-beens. When I see a creative director in his forties or fifties still excited about the work and the craft, I know I am seeing the will to win. Digital used to be a bright shiny toy, now it has become mainstream and controlled: can we still disrupt and break barriers? As the marketing landscape shifts, are we digital marketers ready to innovate to win, in this new landscape, when the easy way is to just continue the basic digital marketing we may have done three years ago?


  1. Effort, effort, effort

When he was a teenager, every day Tiger Woods would hit a bucket of balls for every club in his bag (That’s about 50 balls at least, and about 9 clubs at least, by my calculations). After that, he would play a round of golf on the course. By my calculation, that’s hitting about 550 golf balls a day, at a minimum. It build muscle memory, and the ability to stay focused across four days of a big tournament. Tiger could test different ways of swinging, chipping, overcoming course obstacles.

As marketers, are we perfecting and honing our craft to the extent we can? With digital, we definitely can test options, visuals, taglines, storylines and much more. We have data on what works and what doesn’t. We can know for certain what is better, and not have to guess or depend on gut-feel. Are we as clients and agency folk willing to do the hard work? Or do we want to do the least necessary to reach the goal?


  1. Staring down the odds

Tiger Woods faced racism throughout his growing years. The august Augusta National Golf Club only allowed black members six years before Tiger won his first Major there in 1997. Tiger fought through all that, to become the phenomenon he is. As marketers, what are we doing to counter the odds, when the expedient or the traditional or even procurement departments curtail our budgets or fees or big ideas?


  1. Changing the game

Before Tiger, golfers were not athletes. They had soft bellies and were not muscular. Tiger’s father was an ex-Marine, and he drove Tiger hard and Tiger drove himself to become the fittest, most muscular golfer around. He re-wrote the book on golfer’s fitness, inspired millions to take up golf, and many of his opponents in the final round at Augusta in 2019 were “clones”, inspired by him.

Similarly, how are we marketers changing the game, re-writing the rules of marketing, walking away from the clichés or the expected, to create new paradigms of success? For instance, as digital agencies, are we willing to work on a performance basis, not a standard commission that is a century-old business model? And as clients, why are we not urging our own people and agencies to take risks, to break the cycle of standard, creeping growth rates?

After pushing himself to his physical limit, Tiger’s body was breaking down. His back was excruciatingly painful, born of playing without giving the body enough time to heal after injuries. Tiger tried three back surgeries, which failed, and he almost quit the game. Finally he tried back fusion, a new surgery technique that fused vertebrae together to strengthen his spine.

Luckily, as marketers, we don’t need to take such physical risks. But we can definitely take strategic risks to break through the market. When a brand with a limited marketing budget like Blackmores can focus on corporate social responsibility to build its brand, and grow market share significantly, bigger brands should definitely take bigger risks.


  1. Acknowledge your failures, forgive yourself, come back stronger

Everyone makes mistakes. We as marketers cannot succeed with every promo, every campaign, every experiment. Yet often marketers paint a picture of calm serenity, “campaign went well” and so on when everything is not awesome, sweeping little failure under the carpet.

Tiger too, had to acknowledge his philandering, suffer for it, and get over it, to himself and to the world. He has lost fans, especially women, and he has lost sponsors. He could have chucked away his clubs then and he would still have been counted one of the all-time greats of the game. But he soldiered on, admitted his faults, and found his groove, finally, in an epic struggle that spoke of redemption and revenge. Today he looks people in the eye. Brands too need to be more human, and more real. Brands can admit when they are wrong, and come back stronger and better.


  1. Pick your battles

Golf, like business, is a game of strategy, first and always. Tiger had recently narrowly lost two majors to two people, the leader until the last six holes at Augusta, Francesco Molinari and Brooks Koepka. He didn’t take too many risks, managed his game, stayed safe, played steadily, waited for the leader to make mistakes. And when Molinari hit water on the 12th hole, he upped the ante with some precision hitting on the next four holes. Within 45 minutes of Molinari’s mistake, Tiger had won.

As marketers, in organisations that are grappling with digital transformation, we need to play strategically, to win decisions, and to win markets.


  1. “What we do in life, echoes in eternity”

A sense of mission and purpose is critical to do more than the average human, to motivate ourselves. The entire advertising industry is over-worked. We work long hours, and in fact Jack Ma would be proud of us, as many of us work 996 (at times!).

But what we do in these long hours must matter, must make a difference, if our lives are to count for something beyond making a living (or even, for us to make a very good living). If we don’t believe that, we are not going to add enough value to clients or push ourselves. The hours can matter, but the work from those hours matters even more. What legacy are we building or leaving behind?

Tiger Woods, like many great sportsmen, is well aware of the weight of history and the passage of time. After he won last week, he was keenly aware of his dad being there when he won at Augusta the first time in 1997, and now time coming full circle and him being a winning dad with his son. Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 majors is still in his sights, and he is hunting it down. The arc of history bends towards him.

Alas, even Tiger Woods may not be able to help me improve my golf game.  He has instead definitely inspired millions with the physical and mental strength he has shown to achieve The Comeback. As marketers, we can all use these sports allegory to reassess our own motivation, strategies and willingness to succeed beyond the norm.

Sandeep Joseph is co-founder and CEO of Ampersand Advisory, a consulting agency that combines media, creative and data to deliver immediate business results for clients. To debate the article: [email protected]

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