Tiger Didn’t Help Buick Sales

GM’s Bob Lutz says that Tiger’s presence as a spokesman didn’t help Buick sell cars. Buick having unattractive products at the time may have had more than a little to do with it, but Lutz’s comments fit nicely with my thesis that pro golfers are basically worthless as celebrity spokesmen—except perhaps in clothes. I can’t think of anyone I know who buys a product based on the fact that a particular golfer uses it.

I go even a step further in this: I even think that the whole notion of equipment companies having golfers “on staff” is utter nonsense. Callaway, for example, pays Mickelson millions to play their clubs on the theory that awestruck amateurs will spend big bucks to play the same sticks as Lefty.


I don’t know a single golfer who plays a club because Biggie Pro does. There is some vague notion that the Pro V1 is worth playing because so many pros do, but no casual golfer could tell you with any degree of certainty who does—or does not—play the Pro V.  We know that Tiger plays Nike; Phil plays Callaway and Steve Stricker plays …. what exactly does Steve play? But that knowledge isn’t likely to sway anyone. Amateurs aren’t stupid. We know that we don’t have the skill to play the clubs Phil plays, and that even if we could, they’re not the same clubs found in the local pro shops—even if the name is the same. And we know that those pros will switch manufacturers as soon as one offers more money.

At most, having a big name pro with a company’s name on the bag raises that manufacturer’s recognition factor. That’s worth something, but certainly not all of the attention paid to staff pros and Darrell Survey club counts.

When the golfers in my circle feel the need for new clubs, they typically turn to three sources: First, to their friends. Second, to the local pro or pro shop clerk. And finally, to magazines and the internet. I’ve never been a part of a conversation which began “I need some new clubs, and saw that Phil is having a good year, so I bought Callaway.” I have been a part of lots of conversations that go: “Hey, you have a golf website. What clubs have you tried lately?” and “Can I try that driver in your bag.” I’ve certainly tried my share of clubs out of a partner’s bag.

And if a golfer can’t sell clubs—what can he sell? Certainly not cars (“I drive a Buick because Tiger does” is nonsensical). Or tax advice (Phil relies on KPMG, so I do too.).

Clothes perhaps. I admit to taking clues from styles worn by the pros (and by watching Sergio Garcia, I learn what NOT to wear. What the heck was that jogging suit he was wearing at the Match Play? And that banana suit he wore at the Open Championship?). I couldn’t tell you who wears what brand, though.

So I don’t blame Tiger for not selling Buicks. (It turns out that at least one of his cars was a Cadillac, anyway). And I don’t blame any golfer for taking the money. But I do wonder what those corporate execs are thinking.



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12 thoughts on “Tiger Didn’t Help Buick Sales”

  1. Excellent post. What goes off in consumer brand exec’s minds? THe whole psychological basis of advertising and marketing is pretty stoopid, as anyone who watches tv well knows. I AVOID products that are advertised by “sports heroes”. I never bought Wheaties, for example. Glad the “celebetes” are making the cash, but in terms of persuading me to spend? No sale.

  2. Obviously not every ad campaign is a bona fide winner, but don’t think for a second that the marketing whizzes aren’t figuring their ROI. If you see a reasonably long running ad relationship you can bet it’s because the advertiser is getting some value.

    Not an exact science though. As proof, thanks for cluing me in on what KPMG does.

  3. By the same logic, if the ROI is right, no advertiser would ever drop a celebete who fouled up like Tiger, Vick, Bubba Clinton, Johnnie Edwards, and the lot of them. Apparently the real deal is high-cap corporations have too much money on hand to blow and too little accountability to their shareholders, such as GM, WorldCom, Enron, … I don’t see Accenture, AT&T, American Express, Tag Heurer, GM/Buick as somehow outside that “Extravagent Spending” mold. CLearly, Nike and EA Sports are “all in” as they say in poker, and so have no real choice, although Nike used Luke Donald and an LPGA player to sell clubs and balls and clothes at the PGA Merchandise Show. The Marketing Arm is the “celebrity and athlete” brand ranking consultancy. They say Tiger’s value to sponsors these days is so low he compares to Pamela Anderson and Pauly Shore. What was he really worth earlier? Ask CBS. They paid $850 million for a 4-year television rights to Tim Finchem and the PGA Tour and made all the players a huge pile into their retirement accounts, but four years later said: “TW was grossly oversold.” The next cycle ESPN, NBC, and ABC didn’t even bid, and the Tour took a 25% hit in the pocketbook. Now what? With the banks messing up the stocks for everyone, rich PGA Tour players got a big loss there, and now TW does this. NO wonder the pros want to see him back.

    I know ad guys calculate the ROI. I just don’t believe they are very smart about using “sports heroes”. It’s just the same extravagance in corporate board rooms that gave us Barbarians at the Gate.

  4. I dont entirely agree or disagree with you … here’s my point of view from Europe:

    I mean sure in some cases (like Buick) it may not be obvious that TW helps sell cars, and in the USA that is true.
    But in Europe nobody had even heard from Buick in decades, and most likely in the fast growing Chinese market nobody had either, thanks to TW millions of people were suddenly aware of Buick’s existence. Buick’s problem was that they failed to capitalise on their new notoriety by not providing a decent product to their new potential clients.

    Before TW what was Nike in golf? Before Tiger who would have considered buying a set of Nike clubs when you could get Taylormade or Callaway for the same price and be sure they were quality?

    As for the amateur’s ability to decide on their equipment:

    “I don’t know a single golfer who plays a club because Biggie Pro does.”

    I believe that is true as well, but unfortunatly I dont think it’s that easy. Over the years the big brands have flooded the players with so much cash and the consummer with so much product placement that it is impossible for a small company to gain any kind of market share. They simply cant afford the exposure.

    To illustrate my point, I play clubs from “MD Golf” and sometimes try a couple from “GigaGolf” as well. Last week I played with a 45 year old business-man who was enjoying his week off and he notices my driver. ( i was hiting it well that day wink )

    I explain to him I got it for 99£ on the internet, that it had been getting good reviews on some english magazines and that overall it performs better then the Taylormade i had before.

    He looked at me like I was some sort of Alien and promptly replied: “I just get Callaway because I dont have time to look for anything else, I’m sure it will be quality.”

    That is the result of paying pros to play your clubs. How many amateur golfers think that way?

    That guy didnt even ask to try my driver even though he was impressed with how I hit it, it was just too cheap for him.

  5. I bought a 2008 Buick Lacrosse because of all of the commercials I saw on tv while watching golf. I don’t think Tiger did Lacrosse commercials. I think he did Lucerne and Enclave commercials, but still Buick’s association with golf brainwashed me into buying my car. And I have to say, it is a stellar car in the snow. I love how it’s driving this winter with all of the ice and snow I’ve had to endure.

    I think Tiger’s Cadillac was a loaner. I read somewhere that GM took it back after he wrecked it??

  6. I have never understood how companies can spend millions on advertising and make a good ROI. But, I suppose it works or the majority of businesses wouldn’t advertise. Several years ago there was experiments with subliminal advertising; product pictures or messages were injected into TV shows / movies for a fraction of a second so that you couldn’t see them, but your subconsious mind picked up on the advertising. Anyway, it was reported that it was very effective but it was also deamed unethical and was eventually banned. So, consiously we all say that we wouldn’t buy a golf product just because a celebrity golfer endorses it but, maybe, subconsiously people do indeed buy.

    Like you said in the article; “Can I try that driver in your bag.” I believe that is the best advertising – word of mouth or trying out a product that your golf buddy is using.

  7. I think, like sponsors of golf tournaments, it’s more associating the product with the golfer, not the golfer with the product.

    Buick and Tiger was a bad fit, because no one with an ounce of sense could picture the association. Wearing a Tag-Heuer watch? Yes. Driving an Inifinity, a Lexus, a Mercedes? Yes. An Escalade? Maybe. But a Buick?

  8. I have to admit that my buying a TagHeuer watch was influenced by Tiger being its brand ambassadaor!

    Having a celebrity endorse a product (in many cases) does help the brand value and recall…

  9. So yes we dont “play a club because Biggie Pro does” but we do “trust” a brand because the Pros do.

    The money they spend on endorsement and marketing is not lost because it prevents new competitors to challenge them on the golf equipment market (i beleive that’s called a “barrier to entry”).

    And since all the big names sell their equipment for the same price … there IS no competition.

    it’s a good scam ^^


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