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Paddy Power: marketing genius or unforgivable bad taste?

20th March 2014 10:19 am GMT

The unprecedented reaction to Paddy Power’s latest marketing stunt got the whole world talking but will the short term gain be offset by long term pain?

The initial reaction to Paddy Power’s latest controversy was outrage. In modern parlance this was a WTF moment. WTF were they thinking? On how many levels can they offend people?

In case you have been on holiday to some far flung location and missed it: Paddy Power has been reprimanded by the UK Advertising Standards Authority after a public outcry followed its UK newspaper ad that tied in with the film industry’s Academy Awards.

The ad featured an Oscar statuette with the face of Oscar Pistorius. It featured the text: “It’s Oscar time; Money back if he walks; We will refund all losing bets on the Oscar Pistorius trial if he is found not guilty”.

The double-amputee Paralympian and Olympian is currently on trial in Johannesburg, accused of murdering his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp. He denies the charge, and claims that he mistakenly shot Steenkamp, thinking she was a burglar.

The ad was reportedly the most complained about advert of all time in the UK. The outrage was understandable. Not only did it seem to trivialise the death of a young woman, it also mocked Pistorius’s disability.

Many also questioned the morality of offering odds on a murder trial. That is hardly unprecedented. And in a world where Yougov is running polls on the trial outcome and The Guardian – of all places – is running a 24/7 blog of the trial, questions of morality are tricky – at the very least. Is placing a bet any more immoral than devouring the details on Sky, The Guardian or on Twitter? I don’t think you will find many in the betting industry arguing that case.

But these issues are not trivial. “Imagine it was your daughter or mother that had been murdered,” said one observer. That is a pretty powerful argument.   

While most will see the adverts as poor taste, there will be plenty who sniggered at the “Money back if he walks” line. What’s more Google serves up 77,000 stories if you type in “paddy power oscar pistorius advert”.

It’s hardly surprising that Paddy Power was the most talked about sportsbook during the trial – it was the only one offering odds that I could find and it was certainly the only one coming up with adverts about it. However, it is also reported to have taken over 1,000 bets on the outcome before it pulled the book.

That is not a great deal but it is significant. Meanwhile, Paddys knows the profile of its consumer – perhaps better than any other bookmaker. The bookmaker is performing exactly the same job that Loaded men’s magazine did in the 1990s. Indeed, the pair were marketing partners for a while.

Good advertising divides opinion between its target consumer and everyone else. The Oscar ad must be one of the most-talked about adverts in the history of advertising. It has done its job for Paddy Power. It’s unlikely many of its punters will be turned off by the furore.

However, it’s interesting the ASA has rapped the company for “bringing advertising into disrepute” – a rather strange concept for those not involved in the advertising world. Of more concern to Gaming Intelligence readers might be the question of whether Paddys has brought the bookmaking industry into disrepute.

A Paddy Power spokesperson declined to comment on this issue, which is a shame because their spokespeople have been vociferous in defending the advert since it was published. At a time when the industry is under fire from politicians and media – particularly on FOBTs – it is arguably very bad timing bringing more opprobrium on the industry.

Unfortunately, the gambling industry does have a bad public image – perhaps it always will – but cheap stunts that trivialise murder are hardly likely to improve it.

Paddys chief executive Patrick Kennedy recently signed up to the ABB Code for Responsible Gambling and Player Protection. His advert might well have washed away any goodwill gained from that gesture. There is no doubt it was a stroke of marketing genius but maybe, just maybe, this time they did go a bit too far.

sah@gamingintelligence.com

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