On December 14th, I shared some thoughts about what might happen to the Tiger Woods brand/franchise in light of his personal travails. I really had no idea how it would all unfold given the enormity of the Woods brand and the incredible symbolic power of his personality. Another way of saying this is that few personalities touched by scandal have had as far to fall.
Well, he fell. And then fell some more.
As each sponsor either fired him outright or more subtly distanced themselves, it became clear that the whole brand had been anchored by his perceived reliability, toughness, persistence, and solidity. To use one overused phrase: Tiger was someone you could take to the bank. To use one even more overused: When the going gets tough, Tiger gets going.
OK, I’ll stop.
The point is that his transgressions were not peripheral to his mythology. They were a direct contradiction of the whole structure of the franchise. And many of the sponsors capitalizing on his identity couldn’t run for cover fast enough.
But here is the main point I want to make: Everything we know about the social and economic functions of celebrity suggests that his resurrection is at hand. Again and again — especially when the potential financial rewards for so many parties are so enormous — our culture enables even the most tarnished brand to be revived. Apologies are given, forgiveness is sought, and the fallen idol slowly begins the ascent back to the top. We love the drama of atonement.
In class, I sometimes state it in the form of a “law:”
The speed with which a public figure falls from grace is only exceeded by the speed with which he or she seeks forgiveness and is allowed to return to prominence.