Gambling / Media

Marketing

Paddy Power and Blind Football

Author Donna de Haan, Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences

Posted: June 6, 2016

All publicity is good publicity: The case of Paddy Power and Blind Football

In 2010, a television advertisement aired in the UK in the lead up to the World Blind Football Championships featuring the British Blind Football Team and a cat. If you haven’t already seen it, head to youtube to check it out – just search Paddy Power + Blind Football. The advert became the most controversial advert of the year, in a top 10 which included advertisements promoting condoms, extramarital affairs, and abortion services (Sweney, 2011), and the advert remains in the top three of the U.K.’s all-time list of most complained about adverts (Wallop, 2011). The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), the UK’s independent regulator, whose job it is to act on complaints and to take action against misleading, harmful, or offensive advertisements, received over 1,300 complaints against the advert. The ASA stated that the complaints were based on the fact that the advertisement encouraged and condoned cruelty to animals and was offensive to blind people. The ASA did not uphold the complaints, ruling it was not offensive or disrespectful in itself to create an advert referring to or involving people with a disability. So no harm done, after all isn’t it true that all publicity is good publicity?

Yes and No. The problem here is a missed opportunity. Paddy Power knew exactly what they were doing. From the outset, Paddy Power has taken what they call ‘‘an unconventional approach to betting’’ which is echoed in their advertising and marketing strategy. The provocative nature of their approach is evident in the first line of their home page introduction ‘‘If we haven’t yet done the marketing equivalent of running up and slapping you in the face, then please allow us to introduce ourselves’’ (Paddy Power, 2012). They aim to create controversial campaigns, they know what they are doing and they do it well. But what was the sport of ‘Blind Football’ doing?

None of the players involved in the advert, nor the British Blind Football team had received any media training prior to their involvement (de Haan et al., 2015). The manager of the British Blind Football Team, gave support to Paddy Power for the concept of the advertisement and he was the only one who provided a public response to the ASA enquiry via local television and radio appearances (de Haan et al., 2015). The manager publicly stated that the players were not actors but genuine Blind Football players who had a sense of humour and had freely elected to participate in the advert. No other associated stakeholders of Blind Football (such as the FA) publicly responded to the ASA enquiry. In short the sport did nothing to leverage the publicity that was created. So is all publicity good publicity? Not in the eyes of this player:

My issues with the ad came from the production company who sold the ethos of the idea for the ad as the half humorous cat-kicking antics, with the other half showcasing the skills and abilities of the blind footballers. To my mind the latter part of that ethos [sic] never came to fruition. With all that was featured in the ad being a gaggle of overweight blind blokes chasing a cat around a 5-a-side court. This, again in my opinion, portrays elite blind football in a poor light and diminishes the efforts of every elite player who strives to train their very utmost in order to represent our country and portray the sport in its best light possible. [Player, 2012] (de Haan et al., 2015).

Previous research has identified that players believe that the commodity value of the sport of blind football would be improved with enhanced audience understanding of the game and the level of skill required to play at elite level (de Haan, 2012). Participation in this advert, particularly in the time leading up the World Championship, represented a good opportunity to raise the profile of the sport. Indeed, in their response to the ASA complaints Paddy Power stated that a blind football match had been chosen as ‘‘it enabled the firm to create awareness of a lesser-known sport in the year which the World Blind Football Championships were to take place’’ (Chung, 2010). However, the portrayal of the athletes within the advertisement was unflattering, and it did not showcase the Team GB athletes nor the sport itself, neither did it mention the WBFC being held later that year. As such, there was a sizable gap between the publicly stated intent of the advert and the final product that aired on television. The image that Paddy Power presented only served to confirm extant discourses that view disability as pitiful or amusing. Clearly, this represents a failure of public relations for Blind Football as the goal of raising awareness of the sport was not realised.

It can safely be argued that Blind Football was under-resourced and ill equipped to negotiate with a large international corporation to secure the best outcome for their sport. Had Blind Football ensured a strong public relations presence during the negotiations with Paddy Power, both organisations’ communications outcomes would have informed the creative process, which could have led to a closer realisation of the goal of showcasing blind football to a wider audience. Alternatively a more proactive response following the release of the advert, could have enabled the sport to leverage the publicity to their advantage. The two organisations in this case were operating according to different public relations approaches that had the intended outcome for one of the organisations but not for the other.

 

References:

Chung, A. (2010, 21 July 2010). Watchdog’s blind faith in kick the cat ad. Retrieved May 12, 2012 from http://news.sky.com/story/793745/watchdogs-blind-faith-in-kickthe-cat-ad

de Haan, D. (2012). Paralympic athletes’ perspectives of media coverage: Whose story is it? In O. Schantz & K. Gilbert (Eds.), Heroes or zeroes? The media’s perceptions of Paralympic sport (pp. 181–193). Champaign, IL: Common Ground.

de Haan, D., Osborne, A., & Sherry, E. (2015) Satire or send-up? Paddy Power and Blind Football: a case for managing public relations for disability sport. Communication and Sport. Vol 3 (4), 411-433.

Paddy, Power. (2012). About us. Retrieved September 8, 2012 from http://www.paddypower.com/bet/about-us

Sweney, M. (2011). Paddy Power advert gains most complaints in 2010: Advertising standards authority reveals the 10 most complained about UK adverts. Retrieved May, 12, 2012 from http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2011/may/12/advertising-standards-paddypower-complaints

Wallop, H. (2011). Paddy Power cat-kicking advert most complained about. The Telegraph. Retrieved November 5, 2013, from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/tvandradio/8507143/Paddy-Power-cat-kicking-advert-most-complained-about.html

About Donna de Haan, Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences

Donna started her academic career in the UK but moved to the Netherlands in 2011. Having completed her PhD from Loughborough University in 2015, Donna designed and is now leading the research group ‘Access, Equity and Identity in Sport’ (AEIS) at the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences. For a learning and teaching resource associated with this case, please access Donna’s Research Gate profile: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Donna_De_Haan.

IScreenshot image by cheekypunter, "Paddy Power Blind Football Advert With Tiddles", www.youtube.com/watch?v=ispFw6THxtg.