The little tick and the mighty Tiger

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The Independent Culture
NIKE signed up Tiger Woods well before he made world newscast status. A presentable young black golf branding opportunity has to be about the highest concept, the most lateral marketing opportunity since Michael Jackson. Within Nike's billion-dollar world promotional budget it was low risk even without Woods's US Masters win a fortnight ago because he is enough of a role model and a focus for advertising anyway.

So they made and ran their Tiger Woods commercial ahead of the Masters, and very curious it is too. It features a lot of boys, roughly between seven and 14, most of them black, saying "I'm Tiger Woods". Now golf is a pacific and relatively upscale sport, traditionally represented by older suburban pinky blonde whites of the Jack Nicklaus variety, so it seems like a good enough bit of what all Oprah audience members now call positive role modelling. But it has a creepy side in the absolute transparency of the process of identification, the mooniness of it. Nike, with its gnomic exhortations, is teaching the world to sing in a 1990s way, and that characteristic tick is another bit of all-purpose affirmation.

The major trainer brands are built on the fantasies and insecurities of adolescent boys, particularly black ones. Nike is a key socialising influence in that world; its campaigns focus attitudes and ambitions and aesthetics to an extent that middle-aged people can only guess at. So when Nike gets behind, say, Michael Jordan, the known world starts to tilt a bit. When they endorse a platitude with the very best designers and camerawork it takes on the status of a received truth, and when they use new music it gets very serious airplay. And they do it with a promotional budget infinitely larger than any social engineering institution. So it behoves planners and policy wonks to ask exactly what the little tick means - just do what?