As Paddy Power, the Irish bookmakers famous for pulling some of the most outrageous marketing stunts in the world describe themselves on their website – they’re “the marketing equivalent of running up and slapping you in the face.”
Outrageous, controversial, funny – whatever you make of the campaigns themselves they are incredibly successful, going viral on the Internet as soon as they are uploaded to YouTube. Along the way they’ve ruffled a few feathers and managed to come up with the most complained about ad of 2010, but despite this the Paddy Power marketing campaign has been featured by CNN, The New York Times and the BBC for their ground-breaking marketing innovation.
But don’t take their word for it, decide for yourself. Here are just a few of Paddy Power’s infamous escapades – just who knows what they’ll be up to next.
Then there’s the 270ft long, 50ft high, homage to the famous Hollywood sign that they built on Cleeve Hill; high above Cheltenham racecourse in 2010. The punters loved it, but that wasn’t the reaction of racecourse officials or Channel 4 who both seethed at the audacity of the bookmaker’s nerve and worried about upsetting major sponsors. Even so, it didn’t stop them repeating the stunt; the following September they erected the huge Hollywood-style sign beside Celtic Manor Golf Course for the Ryder Cup. The bookmakers were eventually forced to dismantle the structure, after incurring the wrath of Celtic Manor Resort owner Sir Terry Matthews.
They scored a bit of an own goal when Danish striker, Nicklas Bendtner, got a little more than a SLAP on the wrist recently. Bendtner was fined an astonishing 100,000 euros (around £80,000) and banned for one competitive international fixture when he pulled up his shirt to reveal lucky green ‘Paddy Power' branded underwear during Denmark's game against Portugal in the European Cup. To add insult to injury Denmark lost the match 3-2 and went out of the tournament when they later lost to Germany. Paddy Power said in a statement: ‘We are appalled with the severity of Nicklas Bendtner’s fine for displaying Paddy Power on the waistband of his lucky underpants recently.” I wonder who actually paid the fine?
So, SLAP! Let’s start with their Euro 2012 themed spots for the ‘We Hear You” campaign which pokes fun at a traditional Ukrainian clay pipe – the zozicula. The ad features a giant zozulica being placed on top of a car after a Facebook comment expressing concern that the giant vuvuzela from a previous campaign could be banned. It follows the same theme as Paddy Power's previous “vuvutruck” ad which was also a reaction to a customer's Facebook post who pointed out that the vuvuzela – the background ‘music’ to the South African World Cup – was to be banned from Euro 2012.
STALLIONS OR MARES?
Uh-oh… here they come again… SLAP! Lots of people got “crossed” when they asked viewers to guess if a series of ladies attending the races on Ladies' Day at the Cheltenham Festival were ‘stallions or mares'. The ad, showed a series of brief shots of “women” while the voiceover attempted to guess their gender. The ad received 92 complaints to The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and was banned after being ruled offensive to transsexuals. Banned or not the ad has been viewed over 600,000 times with twice as many “likes” than “dislikes”.
TRANQUILLISE THE CHAVS
It seems that PP team just can’t leave Cheltenham alone, but being described as ‘shameless’ when they created an advertising campaign promising to ‘tranquilise chavs' at the Cheltenham Festival, was water of the proverbial duck’s back.. The 40-second ad shows a very serious-faced hitman stalking the grounds of the racecourse and firing red tranquilizer darts at unsuspecting members of the public. The ad ends with a voiceover promising that ‘You can enjoy a chav-free Cheltenham' courtesy of Paddy Power.
BLIND FOOTBALL PLAYERS
What a SLAP in the eye for Paddy Power when, on its 50th anniversary, the Advertising Standards Authority released a list of the top ten most complained about adverts of all time. Number 3 came in as Paddy Power’s 2010 advert, featuring a blind footballer kicking a cat into a tree because he mistook it for the ball. The ad was the most complained about ad of 2010 proving just what a nation of cat lovers we are and how far the Paddy Power people are prepared to go to claw their way to the top of the publicity tree and turn a SLAP into a clap.
Even national monuments aren’t safe! Yes, Cheltenham again, but this time it was the Uffington horse that the Irish-based bookmakers were playing with. On top of the ancient 374ft long chalk figure, the Paddy Power task force placed their own jockey bearing the initials PP on his helmet. The attention-grabbing feat took place in strictest secrecy and total darkness over six hours at night before the early morning light revealed all. To complete this unique operation, five separate pieces of canvas were cut and over 200 metres of canvas used to create the 110ft tall and 200ft wide sham jockey.
Yes, there’s no doubting that the Paddy Power “slap in the face” machine is prepared to go to almost any lengths to publicise its cause and it seems that their often hilarious, sometimes close to the edge, ads are here to stay. From Bruce Grobbelaar shocking a lucky punter by jumping out of his fridge, to more recent forays into the world of undercover stunting – a band of England football squad look-alikes raving in a Ukrainian forest, and a nasty old lady repeatedly telling Grand National Jockey, Ruby Walsh, that he is “a dickhead” in a café before the race. In their own words – “It’s a formula that the customer appreciates.”
Paddy Power has reinvented the art of the publicity stunt for the on-line, social media age; and they’ve done it with such a revenue generating vengeance that both their tongue-in-cheek courage and customer-driven inventiveness are bound to continue.