accenture ditch their distinctiveness

I was stopped in my tracks this morning when I read the paper and saw this truly awful ad from accenture. Dear oh dear. Not that "elephants can dance too" metaphor, or surf as it is in this case. So deja vu. So crap. Really.

It made me think what a mess accenture's communication is in since it knee-jerked into firing Tiger Woods, who it has used since 2003.


Although many other brands used Tiger, in the business space I think he really helped accenture stand out and be distinctive. They used poster heavily at airports where businesspeople spend a lot of time, and here they were the only brand using him. Same in the business press. He was a valuable brand property. And a flexible one. The number of ads run with him must run into the hundreds:

Screen shot 2010-05-26 at 19.49.01

But in December 2009 accenture hit Tiger into the woods. And as this was a panic move, all they could do in the time available was take him down and replace him with surfing elephants.

What can we learn from this?

1. Distinctiveness is key: as I've posted on before, for Leader Brands distinctiveness is more important than differentiation. In the case of consultancies, "High performance, delivered" is what they all promise. With Tiger they could deliver this in a distinctive and memorable way. Now they are stuck in boring wallpaper land with the elephant.

2. A celeb can be a great brand property: Only in October of last
year accenture's "Executive director-global image" (great job title by
the way), Teresa Poggenpohl, was waxing
about Tiger. "I would say that the story is clearly using
Tiger as the metaphor for
high performance. He embodies the message and what the brand position
is." I'd agree with Ms. Poggenpohl. My guess is Tiger did a lot for accenture's image.

3. Have a back-up plan: there is a risk with celebs though. They're human. They screw up, literally in Tiger's case 😉 . So you need a Plan B, but a good one. I hope that the surfing elephant's wasn't a well prepared back-up plan, but rather a short term fix.

4. Know when to get out: the longer a sponsorship goes on, the higher the risk of a screw-up I guess. Blog Enterprise Irregulars thought so, suggesting "accenture has overstayed its joint branding with Tiger by a
few years. Someone should have
asked “How long should this partnership last?” “When does the risk (and
cost) start to outweigh the benefit of continuing this relationship?”'

In conclusion, a celeb can be a great way of creating the distinctiveness that is key to brand and business growth. They also have the power to unify multiple brand messages into a coherent campaign. But they're risky, so you need a back-up plan if it goes tits up.

On a final note I think accenture should have stuck with Tiger. After all, his problems were in the bedroom not on the golf field. If they'd been really brave, couldn't they have made a great story about needing to have courage to fight back in the face of set-backs and problems? This is all part of business life.

As it is, they panicked like AT&T and Gatorade and dropped him.

In the long run I think Nike and Gillette's decision to temporarily stop ads, but stick by Tiger, will prove to be the smart call.