Paddy Power's Controversial Advertising Strategy


Advertisements are designed to attract interest in their products or services. With an increase in the number of adverts, advertisers use a variety of means to attract attention. Some advertisers intentionally create adverts that are designed to create controversy - even to go as far as they are intended to be banned after use so that they can additional free publicity and that people start talking about the adverts (Price, 2003). Some companies do not just do this as a one off, but build a strategy around this, for example Benneton or Tango (Price, 2003). Another example is Great Frog Jewellery, whose advert states "If you don't like our jewellery, fuck off!" (Nixon, 2003, p. 74). Paddy Power is a nationwide bookmaker (PaddyPower, 2015). This essay will show that it produces many adverts, several of which have been controversial. The question is whether such adverts are good or bad for the company whose products or services the adverts promote.


The market for advertising is continually growing and is expected to amount to almost $600 billion in 2015 (eMarketer, 2014). The market is oversupplied and advertisers have to had to create new adverts to get attract the potential customer (Orr, et al., 2005). One approach is to make their adverts more "risqué" using a variety of means to attract the consumer's notice (Orr, et al., 2005). One such advertiser is Paddy Power. Paddy Power is a large international bookmaker, who operates via shops across the United Kingdom and beyond (PaddyPower, 2015). Paddy Power has marketed itself using adverts over the years, many of which have been controversial (The Telegraph, 2012). One example is the Paddy Power advert adapting the Last Supper by Leonardo de Vinci to show gaming in an advert in 2005 which Corcoran & Share (2008) claim critics felt showed disrespect for Christians.

Paddy Power's last supper advert

Paddy Power Gambles with Last Supper (McLeod, 2006)

Adverts such as these have been reported to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), which is an independent organisation who regulates advertising (ASA, 2015a). The ASA has ruled against Paddy Power on several adverts, saying that their adverts were offensive (ASA, 2012a), prejudicial (ASA, 2014a) and insensitive (ASA, 2014b). The ASA rulings are that the rulings mean the adverts cannot be reused. This is not to say that all Paddy Power adverts broke the rules. A "Jack Cooper" radio advert Paddy Power produced in 2012 was investigated by the ASA and they found that it did not breach the code of practice (ASA, 2012b, n.p.). In addition it should be noted that there were complaints made to the ASA regarding many other adverts from betting companies nationwide (Steen, 2014) and thus the ASA does not single out Paddy Power for its rulings. However the ASA identified that the most complaints received about an advert was an advert that made reference to the trial of Oscar Pistorius which engendered 5,525 separate complaints (ASA, 2015).

Paddy Power's Oscar Pistorias advert

Paddy Power's Oscar Pistorius advert, source: ASA, 2015

As a result, although Paddy Power has not been singled out by the ASA, Paddy Power has produced adverts which had generated thousands of complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority, several of which have been found to break the ASA rules and Paddy Power has been ordered to cease using these adverts.

Braveheart Advert

In June 2015, Paddy Power produced a new advert (the Guardian, 2015) which showed an image adapted from the 1995 film Braveheart, in which Mel Gibson directed and played the character William Wallace, according to the Internet Movie Database (imdb, 2015). The advert is shown below.

Paddy Power's Braveheart advert

Braveheart advert (the Guardian, 2015)

The image in the centre shows Roy Keane, which the Mail Online identifies as the assistant manager of the Republic of Ireland's National team, made to look like the character William Wallace from the film (Burrows, 2015).

The text in the advert, reading "You may take our points, but at least we have our freedom" and followed by "Ya wee pussies" (the Guardian, 2015, n.p.) is a reference to the vote in Scotland in 2014 for independence, in which the side rejecting independence won the vote, which left Scotland remaining part of the United Kingdom (BBC, 2014). The advert was mounted onto a 13 metre vehicle and it was driven across Dublin on the day of the Ireland vs Scotland match in the Aviva Stadium (Brenman, 2015).

Is such controversy good for firms?

As has been shown, the adverts created much publicity. There is the basic publicity that Paddy Power paid for in terms of displaying the adverts in positions where people could see them. However considerable additional publicity has been generated by the controversial nature of the adverts. Reports in the Guardian, the Telegraph, the BBC web site and other places, some of which are detailed above show that Paddy Power has gained considerable publicity for no cost. Thus their adverts have been seen by many more people. This leads to the question as to whether this additional free publicity has helped or hindered the company. Mundy (2012, p. 171) points to the advert "Paddy Power can't get Tiddles back, there's nothing we can do about that, but we can get you your money back with our money-back specials" (ASA, 2012c, p. 17). The ASA (2012c) received 1,089 complaints, most of which were people who claimed that the advert could encourage animal cruelty. However Mundy (2012) reports that the result was that Paddy Power did not suffer as a result and the web site part of its business increased significantly. In this example, the controversial advert was good for Paddy Power in terms of increased turnover after the advert was released and the complaints promoted it to appear in newspapers, web sites and books. Another advert, by Sega showed gamers heading up the Mekong Delta in Vietnam, finding a lost temple and finally finding a Sega Mega Drive was claimed to cost the company half a million dollars, but from the advert and resulting publicity from the controversy, Sega received considerable value for the money spent (Pettus, et al., 2013).

Clearly this is not a one-off. Gainsbury (2012) claims that there is a deliberate strategy by Paddy Power to create controversial adverts. Gainsbury (2012) goes on to say that these adverts are often seen by the younger generation and this has the potential to raise the chance of these people to gamble, especially online. Thus there is the potential for controversial advertising to create a new generation of gamblers, who could then bet using Paddy Power's web site, again resulting in benefits for Paddy Power.

Pulizzi (2014) says that one approach to marketing is for a company to entertain their customers, which helps build their brand. Bradley & Blythe (2014) claim that their brand of controversial adverts generates a following which, when written included (at the time of writing) over 100,000 twitter followers and over 700,000 Facebook followers. Add this to the 14,000,000 views of Paddy Power videos on YouTube and there is clearly a long term approach to their brand which is defined by their controversial advertising giving them considerable low cost or no cost publicity (Bradley & Blythe, 2014). Even the removal of a controversial advert helped Paddy Power to promote its brand (Bradley & Blythe, 2014).

As it was already established that Paddy Power has been publishing controversial adverts over a period of years, it is clearly a part of Paddy Power's strategy and not a one-off lapse. Paddy Power clearly believes that this advertising is beneficial to itself. Although the ASA rulings are often against them, if they only use each advert once, the ASA announcement that they must never use the same advert again (ASA, 2012a; ASA, 2014b) has no effect on them. It is noted that, in addition to the advertising they paid for (such as the Roy Keane banner on the truck), they also gain a huge amount of additional publicity from the newspapers and other media, who also reshow their advert with a story associated with it stating that the advert is unacceptable to some. The Google news server lists the article in the Guardian amongst 89 articles (google, 2015).

Roy Keane news articles

Roy Keane news articles (Google News, 2015)

Thus the threat of legal action from Roy Keane gained Paddy Power a large amount of additional publicity that they did not pay for. Advertising can have both a long term and short term impact and the value of advertising is hard to measure).

The gross profit of Paddy Power during the time period in which they have been using the controversial adverts has gone from €455m in 2011 to €554mm in 2012, €617 in 2013 to €714m in 2014 (Redmayne Bentley, 2015). Thus their total marketing strategy is proving successful.

Even when Paddy Power produced an advert that was banned from being shown on television, Paddy Power uploaded it onto YouTube and it has been viewed over 1.6 million times. Thus even when their advert is banned from TV, it can still be used. It was even posted onto the Daily Mail web site, gaining additional publicity (Mail Online, 2015).

One feature of the Advertising Standards Authority is that, as a non-statutory body, it does not have the powers to fine advertisers or to take advertisers to court (ASA, 2015c), even if they are the worst advert in 2014 and have an approach that brings advertising in general into disrepute. When complaints are launched at Paddy Power, their response is to say that the readers who complain are just taking the adverts too seriously - their adverts are intended to be light hearted (Corcoran & Share, 2008). Thus companies such as Paddy Power can act with impunity and are not generally punished for their adverts.

At the time of writing, the ASA has just made a ruling on their latest advert which includes the phrase "Just f**k off already" (ASA, 2015d), which, it was complained, could cause offense. The response from Paddy Power was that it was in keeping with their other adverts. Thus it is clear that Paddy Power do not have any problems with their style of controversial adverts and it follows that Paddy Power feel the adverts must be beneficial to their company.

Is such controversy bad for firms?

The Gambling commission publish a Gambling Industry Code for Socially Responsible Advertising (Gambling Commission, 2007). It is clear that the advert produced and being driven round Dublin and taken to the Aviva Stadium and the other adverts could be seen by children as much as by adults. Thus there could be a claim that the adverts may encourage children to gamble. However there is no evidence to substantiate this. If Paddy Power were to be considered to be marketing to children, or other vulnerable people, there could be legal action under section 16 of the Gambling Act 2005 (Gambling Act 2005). Thus the adverts could backfire if Paddy Power were found guilty. Benetton, for example, produced controversial adverts concerning the death penalty (Ma, 2014). The result was that they were sued in Missouri, which lead to Sears cancelling their contract with Benetton which was estimated to cost Benetton $100 million.

In South Africa, controversial adverts can depict nudity or the drinking of alcohol (Dubihela & Dubihela, 2011). Although the object of these adverts is to attract the attention of young adults, and this is achieved, the issue is that these adverts do not actually help the reader to remember the actual brand that is being advertised (Dubihela & Dubihela, 2011). As a result much, if not all of the money that a company spends on such advertising is wasted.

Van Belleghem (2012) claims that the reason for the production of a controversial advert is to produce an increase of people who talk about it. However, he identifies, this requires a clear storyline. If there is no storyline, the advert may actually generate fewer conversations.


To conclude, the controversial adverts created by Paddy Power and others was in full knowledge of what they were doing. Their controversial style of advertising works well for them when measured in terms of an ever increasing profits and bringing in new and younger gamblers may give them longer term benefits. Paddy Power regularly creates one-off controversial adverts which are immune to the ASA rulings as they have no plans to reuse the adverts, so they can get away with them. Also, with the ASA being unable to take action against them, their only disadvantage is that they may lose a low number of gamblers who object to the adverts.

However there are risks. Legal action can lead to both penalties and can cost on the bottom line if the company's customers no longer purchase from them.

However, with the penalties being rare and, in the UK, with the Advertising Standards Authority having limited powers, the continuance of controversial adverts shows that they are continuing to be produced and thus Paddy Power and other companies conclude that the good points outweigh the bad points.


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