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Accenture, as if Tiger Woods Were Never There

Brian Stelter|The New York Times
Thursday, 17 Dec 2009 | 10:57 AM ET

How do you Tiger-proof an entire corporation? At Accenture, you start by telling employees to tear down all the posters that say, now somewhat awkwardly, that “we know what it takes to be a Tiger.”

Tiger Woods Accenture Ad with the headline "The Road to Performance Isn't Always Paved".
Source: accenture.com
Tiger Woods Accenture Ad with the headline "The Road to Performance Isn't Always Paved".

For six years, Tiger Woods was the advertising face for Accenture , the big consulting firm. But now that Mr. Woods has confessed to infidelities amid an assault of media coverage, Accenture wants him to disappear.

On Sunday, hours after Accenture ended its sponsorship deal, the golfer’s face was replaced by an anonymous skier on the company’s home page. His name was scrubbed almost completely from the rest of the Web site. The company’s advertising campaign is about “high performance,” and Mr. Woods “just wasn’t a metaphor for high performance anymore,” a spokesman for Accenture, Fred Hawrysh, said.

By Monday afternoon, Accenture staffers had swept through the company’s New York office and removed any visible Tiger posters. The next day, marketing and communications employees around the world were asked to turn in any remaining Tiger-emblazoned posters and other materials. Accenture marketing employees did not respond to requests for comment about the Tiger purge on Wednesday.

Accenture said it did not tell all of its 177,000 worldwide employees to toss their Tiger T-shirts, caps and tchotchkes away. But when asked about branded merchandise, Mr. Hawrysh said, “Our intention is to ensure we are no longer using it internally or externally.”

But it takes time to erase the golfer’s identity completely. Accenture spent $50 million on advertising in the United States last year, and Mr. Woods appeared in 83 percent of the company’s ads — far more than for any of his other major sponsors — according to TNS Media Intelligence.

The remaining billboards and ads, now outdated, inspire smirks and jokes. In ads at the Dallas-Fort Worth airport, Tiger is seen crouching on the green, studying a golf ball’s trajectory and endorsing outsourcing. In Atlanta, he is posed as The Thinker, adorned with a Nike hat, promoting management consulting. At Dulles International outside Washington, he is peering into the distance, dark clouds on the horizon. That ad, forebodingly, says it is “tougher than ever to be a Tiger.”

“The Accenture ads with Tiger finally make sense,” Quentin George, the chief digital officer for Interpublic Mediabrands, an advertising holding company, remarked on Twitter Wednesday.

Mr. Woods provided a big boost to Accenture when he became the company’s worldwide public face in 2003. At the time, the Accenture name was less than three years old, and was still regularly called by its old name, Andersen Consulting. The campaign’s initial theme was “Go on. Be a Tiger.”

Mr. Woods “was a powerful device for our advertising, there’s no doubt about it,” Mr. Hawrysh said.

But as allegations of Mr. Woods’s extramarital affairs spread in recent weeks, the titan of golf was transformed into a distraction. In the early days of the media frenzy, Mr. Woods still greeted visitors to Accenture’s Web site next to the words, “It’s What You Do Next That Counts.” Then on Sunday, the company proclaimed that Mr. Woods was “no longer the right representative” for its advertising and began scrubbing his name and face away.

On Tuesday, that meant telling staff members in an e-mail message to review their sales pitches and slide shows to ensure that they “no longer include Tiger Woods.” In New York, employees were asked to bring posters and other physical assets to the company’s front desk for disposal. The company would not comment on exactly how they would be disposed of.

They may be trying to avoid having the materials recast as collectors’ items. Already, some Accenture magazine ads and memorabilia, including an Accenture Match Play Tiger Woods Caddy Bib, are on eBay (Asking price for the bib: $175.)

Mr. Woods’s private life remains a daily topic on TV talk shows and Web sites, but some of his sponsors, including Nike, have stayed by his side. Nike’s chairman, Phil Knight, told The Sports Business Journal last week that when Mr. Woods’s career “is over, you’ll look back on these indiscretions as a minor blip.”

Accenture, however, is already preparing a new ad campaign. Jon Swallen, a senior vice president for research for TNS Media Intelligence, said it seemed notable that the consulting firm chose not to hide under a no-comment cloak or hire a new celebrity spokesman; instead, it separated from Mr. Woods publicly and swiftly.

“It struck me that they were taking him to the woodshed,” Mr. Swallen said.

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