Categories: Crisis management / Opinion research / Trust and reputations

21 February 2010


Tyranny of Tiger Woods-type apologies

Here’s a critique of the tyranny of apologies and the hypocrisy of sponsors and the general public. It’s a call to all to stop faking it. It is a cry for the return of commonsense, reserve and a mind-your-own-business attitude.

Who was Tiger Wood’s audience when he apologized? Surely, he wasn’t speaking to the public because he has not really offended it, has he? Surely he wasn’t addressing his wife either?

On the contrary, he said his wife was blameless, which immediately provoked the responses (a) we knew that already, dummy; and (b) now I don’t like you for the way you’ve spoken about your wife in a PR thingy. So let’s get this straight: until the apology none of us had any reason to think he was a prat, like it was our business anyway.

The truth is presumably that Tiger Wood’s made his awkward apology for the benefit of his future at least partly with his sponsors. But the thought that they were previously completely oblivious to Tiger’s love of luscious ladies is too naive to believe. Tiger was rampant in his enthusiasms off the course. So if Tiger made a mess of his apology it was perhaps because it was insincere except for the regret at getting caught and having to clean up the mess.

But whatever the critics like me may say, what the hell else could Tiger Woods do? And doing it badly may be better than not doing it at all. The reality is that there’s a threatening popular culture at play in society which shrills, “apologise, reform, move on, or we’ll bring your house down.” Besides, one needs to shut things down: if Mr Woods hadn’t said his piece – at length and comprehensively – his re-entry to public life would have been dogged by the media’s sense that there was still some meat on the bone.

One could blame the media. But I don’t. The media reflects popular culture rather than makes it. No, it is the the two-faced smirking sponsors that I blame, and the public whose judgement they fear, of course. Tiger Woods couldn’t resist, for instance, taking a swipe at Accenture in his apology, whom he called “friends”, but who actually walked out on him.

On the face of it, the sponsors are right to be nervous. According to a survey conducted for PRWeek about the John Terry affair, 62 per cent said footballers’ personal lives shaped public opinion of them and a significant 71 per cent thought footballers appeared “above the law”. The funny thing is that neither John Terry or Tiger Woods has broken any laws, but that’s an aside. The public seems to demand of public figures what it would never demand of itself.

Sponsors fear cross-contamination between their chosen ones’ fallen reputations and theirs. This has created a risk-adverse climate. They and the public have become stuck in a cynical cycle of expressing moral outrage at exposures of what would once have been of little concern to anybody but the families of those involved.

But I don’t think we should take the public’s prejudices too seriously because the public doesn’t take them seriously either. So my call is to bin the research findings.

Here comes more advice. If sponsors want to appear authentic, they need to stop creeping to shallow and shifting public opinion. When the sponsors’ stars are found wanting in some way, they should stick by him or her. I am pretty sure the sponsors’ realism and their loyalty will resonate well with the public.

Can’t we respond like adults to the frailties of our super stars? What do you say?

3 responses to “Tyranny of Tiger Woods-type apologies”

  1. […] tiger woods – Google News wrote an interesting post today. Here’s a quick excerptHere’s a short critique of the tyranny of apologies and the hypocrisy of sponsors and the general public. It’s a call to all to stop faking it. It is a cry for. […]

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  3. Heather Yaxley says:

    I’m with you on this one (I loved the media report that Tiger only needed a couple of men with rifles behind him to look like he’d been kidnapped by Somalian pirates).

    But I wonder if the real culprits are the spineless shareholders of the sponsors – the financial market players who demand so much money for taking risk, yet seem the most risk averse bunch of folk on the planet. Didn’t the stockmarket react to Tiger’s apology? Like it has anything to do with them at all.

    I’d love to see a few more people – celebs and companies – tell it like it is. Either we screwed up, now get over it. Or butt out and mind your own. Because the truth is apart from prurience, most people just don’t really care enough to buy or stop buying products as a result of any such indiscretion.

    Look how few people boycott companies that do have bad practices – we’re all just too lazy to really beyond having a good gossip.