SBJ/December 3 - 9, 2001/Marketingsponsorship

Titleist loosens up and lets it fly with NXT campaign

What's got into Titleist? The conservative golf brand recently launched an aggressive marketing campaign for its new NXT Distance and NXT Tour golf balls, which is in counterpoint to the brand's country-club image.

If Titleist held a family picnic for its golf ball brands, it would take place at buttoned-down Augusta National. Titleist staff players Davis Love III and Greg Norman would be sipping merlot and chatting politely beneath the stately oak tree at Augusta's first tee.

By contrast, the NXT line would be represented by Monty Python's John Cleese belting out show tunes as he swings from the limbs of said oak tree, taking hits from a bottle of Jim Beam. Get the picture?

Titleist traditionally has marketed itself as an expert's golf equipment brand that hackers and duffers aspire to play. Its products occupy the top echelon of golf equipment pricing, technology, quality and consumer brand loyalty. This is largely the result of the company building good equipment, but also of having done the best job of aligning itself with marquee players who use and endorse its equipment.

The proof is in the bags of the world's best players. At the season's final major, the PGA Championship, 95 of the top 100 players in the world were in the 150-player field. According to Titleist, 91 played Titleist balls (the next-closest brand had 15 players), 38 played Titleist irons (next closest: 22), 51 used Titleist drivers (next closest: 46), 127 played Titleist wedges (next closest: 72) and 64 played with Titleist putters (next closest: 31). Titleist golf balls won 32 events on the PGA Tour this year, compared with the next-closest competitor's six victories.

According to George Sine, vice president of golf ball marketing and strategic planning for Titleist parent company Acushnet (an operating company of Fortune Brands Inc.), Titleist has 60 percent of the premium golf ball business. Its hugely successful Pro V1 ball has achieved cult status at the professional and country club levels.

However, Titleist now has less than 35 percent of the mid-price golf ball market. That's the point of the NXT line. The NXT Distance and NXT Tour balls have the 10-plus handicappers in their sights, according to Sine. The products were designed with performance characteristics that appeal to this group. This fat slice of market share represents 25 percent of the 50 million dozen, $732 million U.S. golf ball market.

The products, which launched in September, are marketed differently from any other product in Titleist's history. The NXT marketing campaign's startling yellow-and-black trademark colors (the balls themselves are white, of course) are applied across TV and print advertising, point-of-sale displays and advertising media and on the NXT's dedicated Web site,, which has recorded more than 200,000 hits to date.

The television campaign supporting the NXT is also a radical departure. It was created by Arnold Worldwide of Boston, under Acushnet vice president of advertising and communications Mary Lou Bohn. In it, Cleese plays Ian MacCallister, a loony Scottish golf traditionalist who is opposed to the NXT balls' performance.

The NXT TV spots do a great job of breaking through the clutter of traditionally conservative golf equipment TV advertising. The most attention-getting of the spots stars Acushnet president and CEO Wally Uihlein. The setting is a Titleist news conference. As Uihlein steps up to speak, stalker Cleese smacks him in the kisser with a pie. (I'm told it took Cleese and Uihlein five takes, and five wardrobe changes, to get it right.) Three versions of the 30-second spot ran on several PGA Tour telecasts.

Print and electronic executions are running in seven golf magazines and on four golf Web sites. Sine said the NXT campaign will account for 10 percent to 15 percent of the brand's 2001 media budget, and similar support is expected next year.

Initial response by golf shops to NXT is positive. Sine said the NXT line alone, by the end of November, was expected to achieve competitive golf-shop distribution compared with the full ball lines of Titleist competitors Nike, Callaway and Precept.

Titleist and golf industry relative newcomer Nike are already competing over pro endorsers, shoes, gloves and balls. The battle will escalate to a new front next year when Nike is expected to introduce its premium line of golf clubs at the Jan. 24-27 PGA Merchandise Show.

With the NXT products and campaign, Titleist is saying to its competitors "Bring it on!" It has made the statement that it is no longer satisfied with domination of the "expert" categories alone. It has the technology, the will and the marketing firepower to go after every segment of the golf industry.

Mel Poole ( is president of SponsorLogic, a consulting management and events agency.

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