Paddy Power – Masters of Mischief

Bookmakers Paddy Power caused a sensation on the Brit Awards red carpet tonight with their very own Daft Punk lookalikes who, after mingling with pop royalty , surprised onlookers by whipping off their trousers Chippendale style to reveal a fetching pair of Paddy Power’s world famous Lucky Pants. 19.2.14 Pix.Tim Anderson
Bookmakers Paddy Power caused a sensation on the Brit Awards red carpet with their very own Daft Punk lookalikes who, after mingling with pop royalty Pix.Tim Anderson

Masters of Mischief

Love them or loathe them, bookmakers Paddy Power know how to produce a successful PR campaign. CONOR FORREST takes a look at the marketing behind the madness.

Often accredited to American showman P.T. Barnum, the old adage that there is no such thing as bad publicity hasn’t exactly been embraced full heartedly by businesses. If it does happen, it’s usually a mistake, and a quick public apology is offered by a red-faced company. For example, earlier this year in South Africa Bic faced the ire of the internet on Women’s Day 2015, when it posted an image on social media sites that read ‘Look like a girl, Act like a lady, Think like a man, Work like a boss’. The predictable backlash was swift against a company that had also previously launched pink pens designed especially for women, to widespread ridicule.

Paddy Power, the company that has recently merged with Betfair to create a betting behemoth, is another matter. Their marketing strategy seems to be about making the biggest waves possible. Indeed, the head of their marketing department, Ken Robertson, has the slightly unbusinesslike title of ‘Head of Mischief’.

Recent campaigns that have landed the company in hot water include a billboard placed near the Aviva Stadium before the Ireland v Scotland football international in June, which featured Roy Keane mocked up as William Wallace proclaiming ‘You may take our points, but you’ll never take our freedom’. Keane, however, failed to see the funny side, and launched a High Court action alleging his image rights had been infringed. The brand also brought an international spotlight to bear on its activities as a result of the ‘It’s Oscar Time’ and ‘Money back if he walks’ betting offer on the Oscar Pistorius trial of last year, which became the most complained about advertisement in Britain for the entirety of 2014, and was described by the Advertising Standards Authority as having “brought advertising into disrepute”, no mean feat.


While their campaigns continue to court controversy, there is clearly an element of sheer astuteness and timeliness to many of Paddy Power’s marketing efforts. For example, during the horsemeat scandal that broke in Europe, the company launched a cookbook entitled Cooking up Mischief – Six Delicious Horse Meat Recipes and later set up a ‘Free Horse Burger’ stand in Dublin’s Merrion Square. In another publicity stunt that garnered a lot of attention, two Daft Punk look-a-likes arrived at the 2014 Brit Awards, made it in front of the cameras and promptly dropped their trousers to reveal Paddy Power underwear. And, as this year’s marriage referendum drew nearer, Paddy Power invested in a rolling Dublin billboard featuring two balaclava-clad men in an embrace, alongside the words ‘Tiocfaidh Ár Lá’.

But, for sheer ingenuity (with a good sprinkling of mischief), it’s hard to beat the campaign in which they pretended to cut down hundreds of trees in the Amazon rainforest in order to spell out ‘C’MON ENGLAND PP’ just a week before the 2014 World Cup kicked off in Brazil. The outrage was instantaneous and rippled across the world, with thousands of furious social media users branding the stunt ‘ridiculous’, ‘idiotic’ and disgraceful’. Those same people were left a bit red-faced, however, when it soon emerged that it was in fact a month’s-long campaign that involved the painstaking digital recreation of a 3-D rainforest. The company let the fury build over several days, before finally coming clean with another doctored image that spelled out ‘We didn’t give the Amazon a Brazilian’, accompanied by an appeal for donations to Greenpeace.

A Distinctive Brand

It’s an aggressive form of guerilla marketing, and there’s no doubt that it works. Since the beginning, the company has set out to establish itself as a brand apart from its competitors, similar to Ryanair in its earlier days. As the company says itself in a synopsis of its strategy: “Distinctive brand positions are critical to standing out in a crowded marketplace, and focusing on these areas will ensure we retain our lead in marketing efficiency.”

Increasing publicity by provoking a reaction appears to be one of the main strategies, as noted in recent campaigns such as the marriage referendum billboard earlier this year, and the recruitment of Nigel Farage, leader of the UK Independence Party and noted for his anti-EU views, to front a Ryder Cup advert entitled ‘Nigel Swings for Europe this Ryder Cup’.

Aside from their live action stunts, Paddy Power’s PR profile is bolstered by two tenets – content and engagement are king. The Paddy Power blog, for example, features irreverent, witty and insightful sporting content and celebrity columns from Gary Neville to Stephen Hawking, who provided a mathematical perspective on England’s chances in the 2014 World Cup. And their Twitter page engages its followers with the brand through a never-ending stream of news, offers, memes and, what it is known for most of all, banter. Add to that a betting service that combines regular offers with novelty bets to draw the interest of more than just the average punter, such as opportunities to place bets on the next volcano to erupt, when alien life will be proven or the next person to win the Nobel Prize, and you have a recipe for success (and infamy, too, it would seem). Speaking to BBC HARDtalk in August, Paddy Power himself put it best “You want people to talk about your advertising, you want it to become a topic of conversation and not just the wallpaper.”

Paddy Power Campaigns: the Top Five

2002 – An ad featuring two elderly women crossing a pedestrian crossing with two odds bubbles above their heads became the most complained about ad in the UK that year, possibly aided by a 4×4 in the background which gave the impression of betting on who would be run over first.

2012 – During a Euro 2012 Group B meeting between Portugal and Denmark, Nicklas Bendtner celebrated his goals by showing off his special Paddy Power branded underwear. Bendtner was fined €100,000, considerably less than most other footballing fines, including the €25,000 fine levied against the Croatian Football Federation when their fans set off fireworks and threw missiles during the game against Ireland.

2014 – Paddy Power infuriates people worldwide before the 2014 World Cup by posting an image to Twitter that suggested they had removed hundreds of trees in the Brazilian rainforest in order to spell out a good luck message to the England team. Cue red faces when it was eventually unveiled as an elaborate hoax.

2014 – On fire during the World Cup, Paddy Power enlisted the help of a most unlikely columnist to calculate England’s chances – physicist Stephen Hawking, who touched upon the mathematical aspects of important topics such as the influence of WAGs, environmental factors and how to take the perfect penalty.

2015 – Paddy Power sends a rolling ad around the streets of Dublin featuring two men in balaclavas kissing, accompanied by the slogan Tiochfaidh Ár Lá and odds on the Yes or No vote. Cue instant outrage on Twitter.


Daft Punk look-a-likes arrive at the 2014 Brit Awards

Paddy Power’s Amazon rainforest stunt

Paddy Power recruited Nigel Farage to front their Ryder Cup advert

Stephen Hawking provided a mathematical perspective on England’s chances in the 2014 World Cup