Tiger Woods and EA Sports break ground with Web-only 'walk on water' ad

A scene from EA Sports' YouTube ad for Tiger Woods PGA Tour '09. Scroll down to watch the video.
YouTube.com

You know viral marketing has gone mainstream when Tiger Woods does it.

The ultimate corporate pitchman for bedrock American brands like Buick, Gillette and Gatorade released his latest commercial only on the Internet. In a promotion for EA Sports' Tiger Woods PGA Tour 09 video game, Woods appears in a video where he appears to walk on water and hits a shot off a lily pad. It became the talk of the Web — at least the golf-crazy precincts of the web — when it was released on YouTube Tuesday. As of Friday morning, the video had been viewed more than 600,000 times on YouTube. (Scroll down to watch.)

While EA Sports' Woods promo is a professionally produced video, the idea is actually a response to an amateur video posted last year on YouTube, which is shown at the beginning of the ad. That video showed a glitch in the 2008 version of the game where Woods could walk on water and hit a shot. The glitch is real, according to EA Sports, but affected just a small number of the games.

"So far, we gotten a great response; everybody thinks it's hilarious," said Praveeta Singh, product manager for EA Sports. "Our ad agency game to us with the idea, and we thought it would be fun. We pitched the idea to Tiger and his people and they liked it too."

Singh said EA Sports filmed the spot with Woods in June, prior to his U.S. Open win and subsequent knee surgery. Woods said recently he won't even swing a golf club until next year. However, Woods will be in New York on Wednesday to promote the release of the 2009 version of his namesake game with a media conference and party, Singh said.

EA Sports will also promote the game — which sells for $59.99 for XBox 360 and PlayStation 3 — via traditional television and magazine advertising, Singh said, but viral marketing has become more important as people embrace new technologies.

She admitted that the company had concerns that the "Jesus shot" phrase used in the original YouTube video, as well as showing Woods walking on water, had the potential to offend some people. So far, she said, the feedback from consumers has been uniformly positive.

"We had no choice to use the phrase because it was used in the video we were responding to," Singh said. "We were hoping there was no sensitivity to that. [The video] is very lighthearted and we are not looking to offend anybody."

Marketing expert David Meerman Scott agreed that the clip was unlikely to offend people.

"This doesn't cross the line," Scott said. "If they had used anything overtly related to religion — like a halo on Tiger's head — then there might be a danger."

Scott, the author of The New Rules of Marketing and PR, said the EA Sports video was an effective attempt at viral marketing, which he defines as "when something spreads online like a virus because people share it."

The best marketing is interesting content, Scott said. Viral marketing, he added, is just like word-of-mouth advertising except that it happens exponentially faster and more efficiently. Instead of telling a friend something, the Internet makes it easier to share, so now you can email 10, 15 or 100 of your friends, who then pass it along to their friends. That's how a video posted on YouTube with little fanfare can be watched by more than 600,000 people in a few days.

"I watched [the Tiger video] and I thought it was really cool, so did my wife and daughter," Scott said. "I'm not even a golfer, but it works because he's so famous and people do talk about him like he's Jesus-like, and now you see him walking on water. It's tongue in cheek and it seems to work."

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