The public and media backlash over the Paddy Power Oscar Pistorius Money Back Campaign, could not have come at a worse time for all UK gambling operators. Only this week The House of Lords has been debating further and more stringent advertising regulation of the sector. Furthermore gambling operators are being attacked daily by media commentators and politicians. Put simply it appears that the industry has a lack of friends in the playground.
The ASA has taken the unusual step of telling the Irish operator to immediately pull its campaign from exposure. It means fewer people will be offended, but the damage to Paddy Power’s reputation, and that of the entire betting sector, has already been done. Paddy Power’s brand had placed itself through its marketing as the jokers or the class clowns in gambling’s pack. Nevertheless The Oscar Pistorius campaign debacle resembles a clown car collapsing in a circus.
The backlash to Paddy Power’s marketing has not been kept to media commentators alone, with competitors and industry commentators claiming that the Irish bookmaker has gone too far this time. Many have pointed out that this is not the first time the operator has caused unwanted polemic to the industry; the operator’s sponsorship of former NBA star Dennis Rodman’s 2013 trip to the Republic of North Korea to meet new leader Kim Jong-Un further ruffled industry sensibilities, as many saw an operator carelessly associating itself with a dictatorial propaganda campaign.
Until the recent backlash towards the campaign, Paddy Power’s marketing team had been lauded for its fresh approach to branding and PR in the sports betting sector as well as the wider marketing world. The team had gained a reputation as smart, edgy, on the pulse marketers, who could transcend the Paddy Power brand beyond igaming portals and acquisition channels, to broader more mainstream broadcast outlets.
The operator’s strong emphasis on branding and high visibility PR has proven to be successful. The operator generates vast social media coverage via Twitter and Facebook and studies suggest that the brand is one of the more recognisable within the saturated UK gambling market. Key to its strategy has been a strong focus on targeting it core customer base through use of humour and ballsy messaging
Nevertheless it must be pointed that this is not a new strategy within igaming. Brands that were active during the igaming boom, would revert to shock and humour led PR stunts in order to gain coverage and traffic to their websites. Amongst these were brands such as Casinoshare.com, Golden Palace and Blue Square.
During these early days of igaming, Paddy Power was very much a traditional brand trying to establish itself online; very risk averse and chained, like many still are, to its high street operations and brand values.
Paddy Power’s marketing team has succeeded in transferring this old strategy to new mediums, which allow for social engagement to their brands actions. There is no-doubt that the majority of operators would love to have the operator’s brand coverage and recognition.
The bookmaker may have succeeded in defining its brand, a commendable feat where many have failed in sports betting and igaming. However sustaining public momentum and goodwill gained through shock and humour led exercises can be a hazardous as brands (especially in vice sectors such as gambling) can exhaust public sentiment. Modern consumers exploited to vast brand consumptions demand more; the reality is that shock PR can only satisfy consumers for a short period, before the brand and its image exhausts itself.
The Oscar Pistorius Money Back Campaign, can only be referred to as a brand building exercise that turned into a mistake. Nevertheless this also points a flaw in Paddy Power’s management as successful brand development in any business rests primarily at the door of the senior management team, not simply the Marketing Director. Branding is a company-wide strategy whose purpose is to create long-term value for the business, the old adage that all publicity is good publicity does not reside in this case.
Another ill-advised marketing stunt may see the operator become the usual suspect for poor taste in the gambling sector, a title no one wants to be associated with. Worst still, it will drag the rest of the industry down with it as the politicians decide enough is enough and impose greater restrictions on promoting gambling in the UK.