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Nike (kind of) passes the torch with new McIlroy/Woods ad

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In January 1993, McDonald’s released an iconic advertisement for their Superbowl submission that featured two of basketball’s greatest athletes in a friendly game of horse, competing for a Big Mac.

It started out with Larry Bird in a gym shooting around. Then Michael Jordan came in to join him for a game of one-on-one, but before he did so he opened up a golden-arch lunch.

First, what the heck is Michael Jordan doing eating McDonald’s before playing basketball and second, what in the heck is he wearing? It looks like he bought a warm-up shirt from a Picasso Showcase of Art souvenir store, but I digress.

Anyways, the always competitive Bird (who is a horrible actor by the way) shows his hunger for food and winning, and challenges Jordan for his Big Mac.

“First one to miss watches the winner eat,” Bird says confidently.

What follows is a crescendo of shotmaking that starts at reasonable and ends up at ridiculous. Each legend says, “Nothing but net,” after describing how it would go through a window, bounce off this and carom off that, hit the floor and drop into the net. Each shot defied physics more than the next, yet it was unbelievably entertaining. Here were two legends hanging out like gym rats competing for a $2 sandwich that they could afford many times over had they sold a fingernail clipping. It was light, it was comical and it gave personality to the athletes and the brand.

Fast forward twenty years to January 14, 2013…the day that the world of golf marketing changed. In what people consider one of the worst kept secrets in sponsorship deals, Nike officially unveiled McIlroy and the swoosh together as one, effectively starting the marriage of one of the most recognizable brands in the world with one of the coveted athlete brands in the world. No one can deny the reach Nike has in the eyes of the consumer, and the expectation is that they can ride their new two-time major champion stallion to unprecedented heights only seen by one of their current and proven commodities, Tiger Woods.

To kick-off the campaign, we were treated to a 60-second glimpse of where Nike sees this brand today and where it will go. Nike has a knack for creating interest and buzz through their advertisement campaigns, and have had an amazing ability to position itself throughout history as a pop culture stalwart using words and pictures as their paintbrush. For a refresher, look back on past campaigns featuring Bo Jackson, Charles Barkley, Tiger Woods and absolutely anything with Michael Jordan. Done correctly and with the right personality, the effect could be in the billions of dollars and only stands to make the company and the athlete absurdly wealthy. This new advertisement successfully set the tone for the McIlroy brand while paying due reverence to the established (and extremely valuable) Woods brand.

It starts quietly on a driving range, where McIlroy and Woods are swinging away, both hitting the pin with a precision that is ridiculous, but actually believable. It only takes about 5 seconds to know where this is going. The playful teasing by McIlroy about Tiger being old and the return jab from Tiger about Rory’s hair is refreshing and is something we all know we do to even to the best of our friends. The two then triy to outdo each other, hitting shot after shot and plugging the ball into cups of various types that non-golfers would associate with: drinking cups, glass stemware at a wedding, soup bowls and even a putting mat cup in an office. Yes, it’s unbelievable, but it doesn’t matter. For the first time ever, we see McIlroy and Woods wearing the same brand, teasing the other while playing a game of H-O-R-S-E at the range. Sounds familiar doesn’t it?

It ends with a dumbfounded McIlroy asking Woods, “How’d you do that?”(after a seemingly impossible golf shot that even David Copperfield wouldn’t figure out) and a wily Woods responds, “You’ll learn.” Finally the ever important and recognizable Nike swoosh completes the ad — the symbolic entity to which we must thank for this union of golf’s heavyweights.

[youtube id=”2NCDYjHtEcU” width=”620″ height=”360″]

There you go — brilliant marketing at its best and the stage is set for what could be Nike’s most successful marketing campaign ever. They managed to introduce Rory as the next one without giving up an ounce of honor to his predecessor. In what is likely a Mr. Miyagi-Danielsan intended thematic piece, Nike managed to stay true to both athletes and send the message that neither is better than the other, yet one definitely has an edge with experience and wisdom to which the other can learn a thing or two from. Nike also made clear that this necessity of passing of the torch is not going to be a sudden one, but rather an evolution that may take years to build.

Tiger is a beast from a promotional standpoint and before this year, I didn’t think anyone could hold a candle to him off the golf course. Golf’s next brightest star needed the horsepower of a brand like Nike if he could compete for the top spot as the sport’s most bankable athlete. Tiger, in spite of his inability to reach the success from his past, still yields large crowds and the hope is that McIlroy will too. But that takes time and smart marketing to create a personality that fans can attach themselves to, believe in and ride the victories and defeats with “their guy.”

Fortunately, Rory has already seen success and has built a strong following of fans, but the push of a major brand can only help his visibility and marketability to bring in an even greater fan base and generate even more interest for the athlete and his major sponsor. In the meantime, and until Rory reaches the seemingly unachievable commercial stature set by Tiger, the sponsorship deal with Nike will inevitably pit the two superstars together (albeit for promotional purposes) to satiate the desire of fans to see a head to head showdown between the current world No. 1 and arguably the greatest of all time.

“The Showdown” with Larry Bird and Michael Jordan has stood the test of time and remains to be one of my favorite advertisements ever. It featured two accomplished and popular athletes doing the thing they do best (I’m not referring to acting) and selling a product that is accessible to almost anyone. In doing so, the casual fan has the opportunity to enjoy the athlete’s personality that much more. In turn, they might want the product more as well.

There is no mistake that Rory and Tiger’s ad pays homage to Larry and MJ’s, and hopes to accomplish the same success on the business end of things. Nike was clever enough to recognize that this unique opportunity needed a strategy that can be built upon and added to it by using the teacher/pupil theme to carry the brand to the next decade. The hope is that Rory will take over the reigns as golf’s most valuable property and by making sure that Tiger is there along with him, Nike is banking that this transition will be as smooth as Rory’s swing.

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Dennis lives in Calgary, Canada where golf is available (at best) six months of the year. The other six months are spent understanding the nuances of the game that make it so addicting and wonderfully frustrating. In a perfect world, Dennis would take his set of G10s and his D300S to travel the world playing and photographing the beautiful, unique landcapes of the golf world. For now, he sits at a desk and is developing an eight-layer golf ball simply called "The Tour Ocho."

3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. qpzrnkereowr

    Mar 28, 2013 at 7:19 pm

    cgegaegmiftw

  2. prkhsyqdibhm

    Mar 28, 2013 at 7:18 pm

    effduunlbzuk

  3. Troy Vayanos

    Jan 18, 2013 at 11:20 pm

    I love the commercial as I think it shows a great side to their friendship. The playful teasing and rivalry is great for the game and Nike did a really clever job of this.

    Whether it reaches the heights of Larry Bird and Michael Jordan, only time will tell!

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The Gear Dive: Discussing the drivers of 2020 with Bryan LaRoche

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In this episode of The Gear Dive, Johnny chats with his good buddy Bryan LaRoche. They chat on life and do a deep dive into the drivers of 2020.

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes or here to listen on Spotify.

Want more GolfWRX Radio? Check out our other shows (and the full archives for this show) below. 

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The Wedge Guy: The 5 indisputable rules of bunker play

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I received a particularly interesting question this week from Art S., who said he has read all the tips about how to hit different sand shots, from different sand conditions, but it would be helpful to know why. Specifically, here’s what Art had to say:

“I recently found myself in a few sand traps in multiple lies and multiple degrees of wetness. I tried remembering all of the “rules” of how to stand, how much to open my club, how much weight to shift forward or back, etc. based on the Golf Channel but was hoping that you might be able to do a blog on the ‘why’ of sand play so that we can understand it rather than memorizing what to do. Is there any way you can discuss what the club is doing and why you open the club, open your stance, what you’re aiming for when you open up, and any other tips?”

Well, Art, you asked a very good question, so let’s try to cover the basics of sand play–the “geometry and physics” at work in the bunkers–and see if we can make all of this more clear for you.

First of all, I think bunkers are among the toughest of places to find your ball. We see the tour players hit these spectacular bunker shots every week, but realize that they are playing courses where the bunkers are maintained to PGA Tour standards, so they are pretty much the same every hole and every week. This helps the players to produce the “product” the tour is trying to deliver–excitement. Of course, those guys also practice bunker play every day.

All of us, on the other hand, play courses where the bunkers are different from one another. This one is a little firmer, that one a little softer. So, let me see if I can shed a little light on the “whys and wherefores” of bunker play.

The sand wedge has a sole with a downward/backward angle built into it – we call that bounce. It’s sole (no pun intended) function is to provide a measure of “rejection” force or lift when the club makes contact with the sand. The more bounce that is built into the sole of the wedge, the more this rejection force is applied. And when we open the face of the wedge, we increase the effective bounce so that this force is increased as well.

The most basic thing you have to assess when you step into a bunker is the firmness of the sand. It stands to reason that the firmer the texture, the more it will reject the digging effect of the wedge. That “rejection quotient” also determines the most desirable swing path for the shot at hand. Firmer sand will reject the club more, so you can hit the shot with a slightly more descending clubhead path. Conversely, softer or fluffier sand will provide less rejection force, so you need to hit the shot with a shallower clubhead path so that you don’t dig a trench.

So, with these basic principles at work, it makes sense to remember these “Five Indisputable Rules of Bunker Play”

  1. Firmer sand will provide more rejection force – open the club less and play the ball back a little to steepen the bottom of the clubhead path.
  2. Softer sand will provide less rejection force – open the club more and play the ball slighter further forward in your stance to create a flatter clubhead path through the impact zone.
  3. The ball will come out on a path roughly halfway between the alignment of your body and the direction the face is pointing – the more you open the face, the further left your body should be aligned.
  4. On downslope or upslope lies, try to set your body at right angles to the lie, so that your swing path can be as close to parallel with the ground as possible, so this geometry can still work. Remember that downhill slopes reduce the loft of the club and uphill slopes increase the loft.
  5. Most recreational golfers are going to hit better shots from the rough than the bunkers, so play away from them when possible (unless bunker play is your strength).

So, there you go, Art. I hope this gives you the basics you were seeking.

As always, I invite all of you to send in your questions to be considered for a future article. It can be about anything related to golf equipment or playing the game–just send it in. You can’t win if you don’t ask!

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Golf’s Perfect Imperfections: Task to target

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In this week’s episode: How having a target will improve your direction and contact you have with the ball.

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