As a car salesman, Tiger Woods' record as a former Buick pitchman suggests he is a great golfer. Yet Acura in the United States has signed him to a three-year deal.
Yes, Tiger will certainly shine a spotlight on Acura – just as his presence in a golf tournament boosts television ratings. But Acura doesn't need attention; its products need authenticity. Moreover, Tiger himself is a global brand charging global prices, yet Acura is a North American brand. This is not a good fit.
This is not to pick on Tiger. He earned a reported $55-million in endorsements last year acting as the face of Rolex, Nike and others. Acura, however, is not an established brand whose authenticity is a given. Acura is striving for credibility that Tiger doesn't offer in an automotive deal.
Tiger will cost Acura millions and may yet haunt Honda's luxury brand, the one struggling to find itself, to carve out a premium niche separate and unique from the Germans, not to mention Lexus, Infiniti, Lincoln, Cadillac and even Volvo. With a nod to George Santayana, how is it possible that the marketing geniuses at Acura have been unable to remember Buick's past with Tiger?
To recap, in 2008 Tiger's eight-year, $56-million deal with Buick came to a merciful end . Did Tiger's $7-million annual stipend snap Buick out of a decades-long funk created by a lineup of vehicles that themselves lacked authenticity? No. Buick today, six years without Tiger, is healthy and growing because its lineup speaks directly to the near-luxury brand promise crafted by the products, not the pitchman.
This is a lesson Acura overlooked. Acura suffers from a lineup based too obviously on Honda platforms. This is not unlike Buick in its Tiger days and before, when Buicks were the worst sort of badge-engineered vehicles based on generic General Motors engineering.
Perhaps things will change at Acura when the coming TLX hits showrooms, followed by the next NSX super car. But for now, at the very least the Tiger deal is premature, coming along at a difficult time for Acura. The remake of the Acura brand that began several years ago with the launch of the RDX, ILX, MDX and RLX has to date gone sideways at best.
Acura sales this year are down 1.4 per cent in Canada, despite a major marketing and product push, and U.S. sales are up a modest 4.8 per cent. Meanwhile, Infiniti Canada's sales are up 18.6 per cent, Lexus sales have jumped 16.3 per cent and the big three Germans – Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz – are also growing sales. Clearly, the "new" Acura is a lot like the old one.
Yes, Tiger is a bad move for Acura. This brand most certainly should not be involved with a global pitchman whose track record in automotive is not good. The exposure Acura gets from its Tiger alliance will obviously be significant, but the vehicles in Acura showrooms are the problem.
At this stage of Acura's rebuild, I would argue for an endorsement deal more similar to Infiniti's agreement with Formula One champion Sebastian Vettel. Infiniti, Nissan's luxury brand, is the sponsor of Vettel's Red Bull Racing team and the cars use Renault engines and take engineering help from the Renault-Nissan Alliance. Vettel himself carries the title of "Infiniti Director of Performance" and he told me that he is quite involved in developing cars that drive like they've been tweaked by a champion – him.
The latest example of the Vettel effect is the Q50 Eau Rouge unveiled in January at the Detroit auto show. The Eau Rouge is a Formula One-inspired sports sedan, right down to its sculpted body-side rocker wings, carbon-fiber body components, ceramic exhausts and aerodynamic back end.
Take a close look. The next wave of Infiniti products slated to start appearing in 2016 will reflect what we're seeing in the Eau Rouge, a car Vettel had a role in developing. Vettel, we're told, is more than lipstick on the Infiniti brand.
Tiger, meanwhile, represents only a cosmetic upgrade to the Acura brand. What Acura really needs are unique vehicles that do not carry the scent of their Honda roots.
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