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Apple, Tiger Woods and the burden of brand expectations

Posted by: Michael Mitchell on October 08, 2013

What happens when a brand goes from being extraordinary to just being great? Both Apple and Tiger Woods landed at enviable #1 spots in their respective industries in the last couple of weeks. But their victories, both surprising and inevitable, highlight the benefits and burdens of brand expectations.

Apple just ended Coca-Cola’s 13-year reign as the world’s most valuable brand in Interbrand’s Best Global Brands 2013. With 72 million Macs in use, Apple retail stores (according to RetailSails research) performing 17x better than any other physical retail store, and the iPhone 5s and 5c topping 9 million sold in their opening weekend—the numbers are all there.

But brand is the point where business meets emotion. Numbers aside—when was the last time Apple really wowed us? Over the past decade, Apple gained our loyalty by exceeding extraordinary expectations. Their run couldn’t last forever, but going from bold, world-changing innovations to simply steady, incremental advancements feels quite underwhelming. We’ll see how long our loyalty lasts as our expectations for Apple come back to earth, and expectations for Samsung and Google continue to rise (though, neither Glass nor Galaxy Gear have quite hit the mark).

It’s been five years since Tiger Woods won a major golf tournament and met both his and our extraordinary expectations. Since then, like Apple, he’s made slow, steady progress. Quiet victories at less prestigious events have helped him reclaim the position of world’s #1 golfer and earned him the 2013 PGA Player of the Year award. But again, we’re underwhelmed.

Nike attempted to reignite the Tiger Woods brand this year with an ad famously touting that “Winning takes care of everything.” It fell flat not only because it felt crude considering his personal troubles, but also because his professional brand was never simply about winning. It was about winning on the biggest stages and eclipsing history. As he continues to fall short of that promise, we’ll see how much longer we continue to tune in.

Because a brand is a promise, and when you promise and deliver extraordinary things—as Apple and Tiger Woods have in the past—what happens when you no longer live up to those expectations? Apple’s #1 BGB ranking and Nike’s failed Tiger ad begin to answer that question in different ways. We’ll see, as time goes on, whether just being great is enough for either brand.

Michael Mitchell is a Senior Consultant, Verbal Identity, Interbrand Singapore.

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