Tiger Woods Can Walk on Water

How EA Sports' response to a fan's video acknowledged a bug in its latest golf game...and won fans

A year ago, a YouTube enthusiast posted a video depicting what he called the "Jesus Shot" in Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2009. This video showed off a bug in the game where players could take a shot while standing on water. Electronic Arts issued a response to this with its own video, showing that Tiger does indeed Walk on Water.

Now, EA getting in on an Internet meme might seem a little like your dad 'friending' you on Facebook. It's worth noting, though, that this ad got the attention of ESPN's E:60 show and has gotten over 2.1 million views on YouTube. To any marketer, attracting that sort of attention is classified as a success.

We talked with Praveeta "No Relation to Vijay" Singh, product manager for Tiger Woods PGA Tour at EA Sports, about making Woods float.

The human side of a huge, international corporation

The Tiger Woods "Walk on Water" ad seems somewhat unusual for a company like EA. After all, the ad is an acknowledgment of a bug in one of their games in a tongue-in-cheek sort of way. It also, however, fits with the more personable EA Sports ads of this season and Singh definitely approves of the direction.

"It was actually our advertising agency that brought it to our attention; they thought we could do something with it involving Tiger. We looked at it and we thought it would be pretty funny, so we gave it the go-ahead," said Singh. "One of the nice things was that people saw the human side of EA. I like to say that I work with a bunch of overgrown five-year-olds! People here really have such passion for sports, and to work in this environment, you have to have a sense of humor."

"We filmed it here in Orlando in June in one of the courses here. It was before [Tiger] pulled out of the PGA for the rest of the year. Tiger was very cool with the ads," she continued. "We laid out the storyboards to him and we sent them a lot of examples showing what we wanted to do. When they saw it, they saw exactly what we wanted to do right off the bat, so there wasn't a lot of clarification or debate."

Millions have seen Tiger walk on water

Another unique fact about the ad is that it was actually released first on the web before it became a TV ad spot. Part of the reason for this was that it was an appropriate response to a video that originated on the web, but it's about more than that. As we've noted here in Ad Watch, the eyeballs aren't necessarily there in the TV space anymore, so trying to reach out to fans via a viral web promotion was a very savvy move on EA's part.

"It's really important as we look at our marketing list to reach new marketing mediums," described Singh. "People are on the Internet and one of the things we consider is that, with TiVo, people skip over commercials. You think about all the things you're doing in a day, you might not watch TV, but you've probably been online. As marketers we're looking for different ways to approach our customers. We want this new Tiger ad to be appealing and show that there's a new game out there."

"We see it as a way of reaching [our customers] on a different level. But it is also more personal and shows a different side to EA," she continued. "We're always inundated with information and our attention spans are getting shorter, so I think putting the clip on the web works to that as well. It's funny because when people look for a clip they go to video on YouTube first and not through 'conventional channels.'"

So help me Jesus

EA has been moving in general more towards connected community features with its games. Skate had a feature that allowed players to upload their videos quickly and easily and NCAA Football 2009 allowed players to play dynasty mode online. It's these attempts at reaching out and connecting with fans in a personal way that EA will continue to look into.

"Last year the game came out with the Tiger Net features, and now we're making it easier to post clips, so anytime you're in any portion of the game, these videos made by other players will be running as you're playing," described Singh. "The user generated content makes it a much more personal experience, allowing players to see what others are doing, like do you try to get the best score or do wacky shots off of trees? We want to make the experience as fun as possible; instead of us telling you what's fun, you tell us what's fun."

"I think overall we're very pleased with how this and the Rubik's Cube one have done; they've gotten good traction and it proves our theory that this is a valuable marketing avenue. I can say that it's something more we're looking to do with our titles," she concluded.

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