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Tiger Woods won at the Masters, and so did Nike

Nike celebrated Tiger Woods’s first Masters win since 2005 with a piano-backed slideshow of his “highs and lows.”

Golfer Tiger Woods raises his arms in celebration after winning the Masters Tournament.
Tiger Woods won his fifth Masters Tournament in 2019, his first since 2005.
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Tiger Woods won his fifth Masters Tournament and first since 2005 on Sunday, in what even the stock market blog MarketWatch has called “one of the greatest comeback stories in the history of sports.”

Woods has had a rough decade: an infidelity scandal in 2009 that led to a highly public car accident and careless driving charges, the loss of sponsors like AT&T, Gatorade, General Motors, Gillette, and TAG Heuer, as well as his divorce; four back surgeries and an elbow injury that prevented him from competing seriously for several years; and a 2017 DUI that resulted in a year-long probation. His win at this year’s Masters is not only his first Masters win in nearly 15 years, it’s his first major tournament win since the U.S. Open in 2008. Though he’s spent most of his career recognized as one of the best golfers of all time, he dropped out of the official ranking of the world’s top 1,000 golfers in the summer of 2017.

When he won on Sunday, it was a perfect opportunity for Nike, a sponsor of his since 1996, to drop an inspirational video on its YouTube, Twitter, and Instagram accounts.

The ad is a 51-second slideshow of clips of Tiger Woods playing golf, set to inspiring piano music, with text overlay describing Tiger Woods as someone who has experienced “every high and every low.” The highs are represented by Woods pumping his fist and yelling in victory, the lows by him sitting on the ground and sweating after a bad shot.

The gist of the ad is that “it’s crazy” that Woods has been “chasing the same dream” for 40 years, and that people who love Nike should do the same. “Never stop chasing your crazy dream. #justdoit,” the video caption reads.

The comments are — for the most part — genuinely emotive and appreciative. “Don’t even like golf and still tearing up, what a story.” “True story for the books. People wrote him off. He never gave up…” “THANK YOU NIKE! You have always been BEHIND TIGER WOODS no matter what! AND NOW........The RETURN of the GLORY! CONGRATULATIONS TIGER WOODS! THE GREATEST OF ALL TIME!!!!”

The Nike ad has been called “moving,” “inspiring,” “emotional,” and “epic” by media outlets. “Scandal, injury and a win drought left Tiger Woods with few major sponsors,” wrote USA Today in a laudatory history of Woods’s $200 million deal with Nike. “But he still carries branded logos on his shirt, bag and clubs. ... He wears the Nike symbol on his shirt.”

The ad was a great idea, neatly capitalizing on and assisting Tiger Woods’s comeback by underscoring the fact that Nike is not one of those fickle, heartless corporate giants that abandoned him when he was down. It’s also, arguably, a little simplistic to splice together clips that make it seem as though a man who has seemingly done a lot of difficult work on daunting personal issues has really only ever been battling a good, sexy fight with the sport of golf.

The point of advertising is obviously not to faithfully recreate adversity or the human complexity of our cultural icons. Nike is going to make more money off of Tiger Woods and Tiger Woods is going to make more money off of Nike. This arrangement is basically fine and a comeback story is often nice. It’s interesting, though, to situate this ad in the last year of Nike marketing, which has been all about Nike as a signifier of heroism — Nike, the brand that stuck by Colin Kaepernick; Nike, the brand that invited women into streetwear culture; Nike, the brand that asked Serena Williams to tell female athletes to “dream crazier.”

There is virtually no difference between this sentiment and the one behind Adidas’ “She Breaks Barriers” campaign, which launched on International Women’s Day and encourages women athletes to pursue “bigger dreams.” Nike, however, played the long game. It held on to the Tiger Woods card until it would be worth playing again.

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