If you’re a upstart brand looking to carve a sizeable place in your market and grow quickly, then a little controversy never really hurts. The theory goes that nothing stretches the money you have available for publicity like running edgy campaigns that risk censure.
Step forward online bookmaker Paddy Power and its roster of ads featuring the tranquillizing of chavs, tasering tea ladies, and refund offers if Oscar Pistorious was found not guilty – an ad eventually banned by the authorities.
Paddy Power has deliberately set out to drive business forward with an edgy and irreverent content marketing strategy that appeals to its target audience of young men, but the online bookmaker’s approach isn’t simply a matter of producing shocking ads time and time again, it’s more nuanced.
Earlier this week Richard Harris, Paddy Power’s head of online marketing, suggested to delegates at the Ad Tech conference that amongst reams of other content it produces there was an acceptance that content produced for TV and content expected to find an audience virally across social media worked to different standards.
He said TV commercials were planned to be aired so did ‘not get banned generally’ but added that: ‘Sometimes things that get banned have their own lease of life [on YouTube]…Certainly things like the chav tranquillizer or Joey Barton tasering a tea lady, there is a pretty good chance that things like that will get banned, which is OK.’
Does Paddy Power aim to get certain video ads banned or deliberately garner controversy and build a likely online audience? That seems to miss the point.
Paddy Power’s brand identity, Harris said, is based on presenting itself is a point of difference to more po-faced competitors. Essentially, it offers hundreds (if not thousands) of pieces of fun content, amongst which may lurk the occasional ad that steps close to, if not over, the line.
‘Occasionally, we get it wrong,’ said Harris. ‘The Oscar Pistorius thing is probably a good example of something which probably crossed the line.’
The Oscar Pistorious ad, banned earlier this year by the Advertising Standards Authority for bring advertising ‘into disrepute’, is the exception rather than the rule.
In the last four years just four complaints to the ASA about Paddy Power have been upheld. That’s not that bad when you compare it with, say, Express Newspapers that was ruled against five times in two months in 2009.
Nor is Paddy Power quite as directly controversial as Ryanair. The budget carrier had 23 reprimands handed down to it from the ASA in the five years to the point in early 2012 when in the course of two months the airline was censured for “sexually suggestive” adverts featuring women in underwear to publicise its 2012 cabin crew charity calendar and for producing ads falsely implying Thomas Cook was on the brink of administration the previous year.
Seen in that light, long may the (mostly) harmless fun of Paddy Power continue.