Timberlake Tees Off For Callaway

What golf advertising needs, according the Callaway creative director Justin Timberlake -– yes, that Justin Timberlake –- is a "nice injection of kickassery." Presumably, that’s exactly what the new campaign he has fashioned with Denver’s Factory Design Labs brings to the fairway as it breaks during the Farmers Insurance Open (how’s that for a kickassery-type of corporate sponsor?) this weekend.

Personally, I am among the television viewers who have yet to develop the ability to, as Adam Fonseca wryly writes in his “Waggle Room” blog, “enjoy the relaxing, traditional, and often monotone insights provided to the viewer during [golf] telecasts on a Sunday afternoon.” As far as I’m concerned, making golf seem “sexy again” as the hed atop Susan Vranica’s informative piece in the Wall Street Journal puts it, would be like making ballroom dancing appealing to the masses again. (What? They’ve done that?)

Callaway, which make clubs for those of you who are not duffers, has been in a slide for several years. Blame part of it on the recession. Blame part of it on Tiger’s gaffes (why not?). And blame some of it on a lame marketing campaign that got away from the basics of the equipment’s ability to help you thwack a dimply orb great distances.

Interim CEO Tony Thornley does, according to Vranica. So does Raymond James analyst Dan Wewer, who told investors in a note that by aligning itself with Lamborghini a few years ago in its advertising, "Callaway strayed too far from its golfing roots with a marketing message that focused on styling and too little on the benefits of its equipment for the golfers."

In case you missed it, the Carlsbad, Calif.-based Callaway announced last month that it had established “an advanced, creative position for [the] multiple Emmy and Grammy Award-winning actor, musician and avid golfer,” who has been a Callaway “staff professional since 2008.” He was, in fact, the first “nonprofessional” to join those hallowed ranks.

"Justin is an extremely gifted artist and an avid golfer with a deep passion for Callaway products, and his creative energy will serve us well as we connect with the next generation of golfers,” Jeff Colton, Callaway’s SVP of global brand and product, said at the time.

That’s a big challenge. The Wall Street Journal’s Matthew Futterman reported a couple of years ago that the number of golfers age 6 to 17 dropped 24% to 2.9 million from 3.8 million between 2005 and 2008 alone, according the National Golf Foundation, despite a very successful program for youth called The First Tee.

"The future of golf not only for kids but for families has got to be short-course facilities, like the nine-hole executive course that wraps around the range, or the pitch-and-putt next to the larger course," one interested observer told Futterman.

Back to Timberlake. Creative director? What’s with that? Isn’t there enough of a problem with meaningful jobs for young people in the ad industry? In addressing that very question, Ad Age’s Rupal Parekh points out that Timberlake is jumping on an oversized golf cart already loaded with celebs with high-falutin’ titles.

“So Lady Gaga's working at Polaroid, will.i.am is doing overtime at Intel, the Olsen Twins are toiling over at Superga, and -- the most disturbing of them all -- Victoria Beckham, the artist formerly known as Posh Spice, is teetering into Land Rover HQ in six-inch heels to offer her creative advice?,” Parekh writes before offering some advice to marketers. Desist: “It's beginning to get really irksome that companies think consumers aren't the wiser -- and are oblivious to what are basically celebrity endorsements dressed up as some higher vocational calling.”

But who knows? Maybe there’s more to this Timberlake lad than a great voice, acting talent and good looks. Maybe he’s got the real stuff of an ad guy combined with the passion of a true believer.

“Timberlake is not just a P.R. move for Callaway,” Bleacher Report columnist Michael Dixon wrote when the announcement was made. “He has an undeniable passion for the sport. Timberlake owns a golf course in Tennessee, hosts a PGA Tour event (Shriners Hospitals for Children Open) and is a fixture at early-season Pro-Am's such as the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am and Humana Classic.”

Oh yeah, the spots themselves? They feature heavy hitters such as Alvaro Quiros, Phil Mickelson and Annika Sorenstam “using Callaway products to perform jaw-dropping golf feats on the Las Vegas Strip,” Vranica reports. But unlike the Super Bowl commercials that are already online creating buzz, as the New York Times’ Stuart Elliott reports this morning, you’ll evidently have to wait until the weekend to catch Callaway on the big screen.

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