Virginia Rometty's presence at Augusta National shone a spotlight on the club's rules on women members. She watched the last day's play from behind the final green, but was not given a green jacket denoting membership of the club, unlike her predecessor Sam Palmisano and the male CEOs of fellow sponsors ExxonMobil and AT&T.
It's hard not to feel Augusta National blew an opportunity to bring its reputation into the 21st century and modernize its silly rules, which clearly belong to a less-enlightened age. But a wider communications issue was the nature of the television ads around the Masters, especially from the aforementioned sponsors.
It's a very prestigious spot. There are fewer ad minutes per hour than other tournaments, those minutes are reserved for sponsors, and there are no broadcaster programming cross-promotions, affiliate breaks, or local commercials. It's a captive and premium audience.
ExxonMobil chose to highlight its support of math and science and a drive to make the US more competitive. AT&T structured its ads around “Rethink possible,” a broad message about technological innovation. IBM focused on its “Smarter planet” positioning, portraying itself as a global force for good.
It's a long way from traditional product-led advertising. It could even be called disingenuous. But these are modern multibillion-dollar ad budgets in action, and advertising is clearly still a very effective medium for conveying messages. However, in isolation, it feels like a one-way process that is old-fashioned in the modern world of conversation and interaction.
The first reaction is to want to find out more about these efforts – and then discuss them. For example, how can we get kids' math grades up? That's where PR is proving it is able to supercharge the messages and facilitate the debate. And that's where the smart world of integrated marketing is heading – with or without Augusta National and its archaic club rules.