Cunning stunts – The power of ambush marketing

I recently read a short article about how Skinny Vines pranked soft drinks company Innocent in a publicity stunt. The new company, a low calorie wine maker, hung a banner that said ‘Forget the juice… drink wine’ from Innocent’s head office in London. It’s a great example of a nascent branch of marketing that already has some really serious players. The first company that jumps to the forefront of my mind is Paddy Power.

Whether you agree with Paddy Power’s ethics or not, they are without a doubt successful pranksters.  As soon as their adverts are uploaded onto YouTube they go viral, they aren’t scared to step on other peoples/brands toes (which in turn creates endless press coverage).  In 2010 they also took the crown for creating the most complained about advert of the year.

It’s often the case that the publicity their adverts create is valued at more than the cost of the campaign itself.

Most of us will be familiar with some of their marketing stunts, but let’s have a look at some of their most controversial adverts over the last few years.

The Last Supper Billboards – Dublin: 2005

They created billboards with a mocked up image of Leonardo da Vinci’s famous painting of the Last Supper. Paddy Power poked fun at Jesus and his apostles, the image showed them gambling with poker chips, playing cards and roulette. The slogan read “There’s a place for fun and games”. The advertising authority received more than 100 hundred complaints and ordered Paddy Power to remove the poster. The ASA said that the advert breached multiple guidelines referring to taste and decency as well as religion. Paddy Power did as they were asked and removed the posters …….. but replaced them with a new caption “There’s a place for fun and games. Apparently this isn’t it”. Even though Paddy Power had to remove their initial adverts, they did receive a huge amount of publicity both in Ireland and abroad.

Ryder Cup Hollywood Sign – Celtic Manor, Newport: 2010

They had already pulled this stunt a few months before at Cheltenham Races. They erected a 270ft long and 50ft high sign similar to that found in Hollywood, on Cleeve Hill above the racecourse. They decided to dust off the Hollywood sign and resurrect it. This time they hired land from a farmer in South Wales, and up the sign went. They didn’t rent any old field; this field overlooked the Ryder Cup course at the Celtic Manor. After a bit of a scuffle, eventually Cardiff County Council did order the company to dismantle the sign. Paddy Power came out on top again with the amount of publicity this ambush generated. Unfortunately Terry Matthews (owner of the Celtic Manor) added to their publicity by branding them ‘scum’ on national TV. However, we may have seen the back of the Hollywood sign, rumour has it that they managed to lose the sign after taking it down!

Blind Footballer Kicking a Cat TV Advert – 2010

The piece de resistance (aka the most complained about advert of 2010). The advert was run on TV and insinuated that a blind footballer kicked a cat into a tree (only insinuated because they didn’t show
the footballer kicking the moggy). Complaints flooded the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) office; in total they received 1313 complaints. This not only made it the most complained about advert of 2010, but also put it into 3rd place for the most complained about UK advert at that time. The public claimed that the advert was disrespectful to blind people and may encourage animal cruelty. ASA decided not to uphold the complaints as they felt they were light hearted and surreal.

Imogen Thomas Newspaper Adverts – 2011

This time they enlisted the help of former Big Brother contestant Imogen Thomas. The advert was created to promote its offer to refund all losing bets on Manchester United in the Champions League Final. At the time the claims of Imogen and Ryan Giggs having an affair were flying around. The first advert circulated included the slogan “Imogen can’t keep quiet about this”. They then took it one step too far for some; the next advert showed Imogen blowing into a whistle with the caption “Blow me!” A number of newspapers rejected the wording and pulled the adverts from running.

Stallions or Mares TV Advert – Cheltenham Races Ladies Day: 2012

A particularly controversial advert! The commercial showed transgendered ladies amongst a crowd of racing spectators at the Cheltenham Festival. The voiceover was guessing their gender ‘stallions or mares’. The ASA received 421 complaints and banned the ads. Yet again Paddy Power came out unscathed, they uploaded the advert onto YouTube and was viewed over 600,000 times.

Tranquilise the Chavs TV and YouTube Campaign – Cheltenham Festival: 2012

Cheltenham Festival was targeted again, this time the advert showed a hitman running round the ground tranquilizing stereotypical chavs. The idea came from a fans Facebook comment “Hope the chavs don’t ruin Cheltenham like they did Ascot” (after a drunken brawl broke out in Ascot the previous year). The advert was banned from airing on TV only 4 days into the campaign. It’s still available on YouTube and has clocked up 1,440,016 views.

Bendtner’s Lucky Paddy Pants – 2012

Earlier this year they signed up Danish footballer, Nicklas Bendtner. Bendtner was playing against Portugal when he adjusted his ‘kit’ and revealed his lucky Paddy Power pants. UEFA didn’t let Bendtner off lightly, he received a one match ban and around an £80,000 fine. Needless to say Paddy Power picked up the UEFA bill.

Egg & Spoon Race Billboard – 2012

Paddy Power couldn’t contain their excitement for the London Olympics. They ran the following billboard campaign at three stations in London.

At first Olympic organisers demanded that the billboards were removed. Paddy Power disagreed that the advert violated Locog’s marketing rules; eventually Locog withdrew the request to remove the adverts.

If that’s not enough examples of Paddy Power’s marketing then you might want to check out some of their other controversial campaigns.

  • Cheltenham Racecourse Hollywood Sign
  • Paddy Power Vuvuzela Truck
  • Uffington Horse
  • Paddy Power Takeaway

What’s your favourite Paddy Power marketing campaign? Or can you think of any other companies that have pulled a marketing stunt or prank? Please leave a comment below, email me or tweet me @realradiojodi

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