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Paddy’s clever marketing stunt puts advertising in the spotlight (again)


5 Aug 2019

Paddy Power’s Huddersfield sponsorship wheeze showed how an operator can utilise the thorny issue of gambling advertising to their advantage. But the industry will continue to feel the pressure no matter what, writes Dominic Gates.

The great British gambling advertising debate has continued unabated throughout the summer months and as we near the start of a new British football season it shows no sign of quietening down.

The latest installment in what has become one of the longest running business sagas of recent years comes from those well-known mischief-makers at Paddy Power. And it has to be said, this stunt was clever, (too?) well executed and actually made a serious point about the gaming and betting industry and its position as a mainstream leisure activity in the UK in 2019.

You might have seen or heard about it this week. Paddy Power announced it would be the new shirt sponsor of Huddersfield football club, complete with a glaring Paddy-labelled sash slapped across the front of the club’s jersey.

— Huddersfield Town (@htafc) July 17, 2019

It has to be said, it was a thing of pure horror and everyone was up in arms about it. From industry executives who were trying not to smile/hide their face in shame/throw their arms up in the air in a show of helpless despair (delete as appropriate); to problem gambling charities and anti-gambling commentators bemoaning yet another bookie on the front of a club’s football shirt, to the pearl clutchers at the Daily Mail.

And with it being Paddy Power the mainstream press outlets were treated to the usual ‘in your face’ press release and cheeky puns. The resulting outrage from the public and media was so persistent that eventually both Huddersfield and Paddy Power had to cut the campaign short and explain that it was all a big wind up.

Ingenious idea, good execution

Yes, Paddy Power would be the club’s main shirt sponsor for the forthcoming season, but it would not be appearing on its jerseys. This is because it wants to focus on spreading the message about its ‘Save our Shirt’ campaign, which aims to support football clubs via sponsorships and betting partnership agreements, but without appearing on the players’. jerseys.

It’s an ingenious campaign and a very clever way of addressing gambling advertising, the most high-profile way operators have of getting their brands in front of their target audience. Of course the flip side of that activity is that is also attracts the strongest condemnation from critics, anti-gambling activists, journalists and politicians. Hence Paddy’s ‘Save Our Shirt’ initiative.

In a company statement, the bookmaker’s managing director Victor Corcoran said: “Shirt sponsorship in football has gone too far. We accept that there is a role for sponsors around football, but the shirt should be sacred.

“So today we are calling on other sponsors to join the Save Our Shirt campaign, and give something back to the fans.

“As a sponsor, we know our place, and it’s not on your shirt.”

It’s a great idea well executed. Not only has Paddy Power snagged sponsorship agreements with Huddersfield and Southend United, it has done so by putting forward a holier-than-thou message about not wanting to desecrate football shirts and hit the spot when it comes to appealing to fans and traditionalists.

From a corporate communications perspective it has also answered GVC’s call for gambling operators to stop all marketing and sponsorship activity in the UK; and done this in an entertaining and provocative way that garnered attention from all angles.

Political pressure will continue

As mentioned in other articles on this topic, the fact that both groups (along with William Hill and Betfred) are the biggest bookmakers in the UK means they can afford to call for an advertising break. Their high street outlets and multi-million pound advertising budgets enable them to get their names out to the public much more easily than an online-only or new operator ever could.

Paddy Power’s ‘Save our Shirt’ whiz and GVC’s call for an advertising moratorium should be seen in that context.

It’s also worth remembering that for all the attention it attracts, sponsorship and advertising is just one ingredient in the marketing mix for gambling operators; and one that is hard to quantify at that.

While Paddy Power will have attracted acres of press coverage this week, it would be interesting to see how much of it was positive or went beyond the initial outrage and actually highlighted the message it wanted to convey (although it probably doesn’t matter that much to the bookie).

Online advertising and affiliates in particular, such as this site and the likes of Oddschecker or OLBG for sports betting, actually drive players to operator sites and their work can be quantified much more accurately than PR-led efforts such as Paddy Power’s this week.

And finally, with operators so keen to put forward their social responsibility credentials through statements and marketing campaigns around advertising, the proof of whether they practise what they preach is actually found in the details of the many fines they have been handed by the Gambling Commission in recent years. As things stand, it’s far from certain that they do.

It will be important to look out for these trends in the coming months because even though Brexit will continue dominating the news cycle, there is no question that gambling will be in politicians’ cross hairs, especially if they are looking for an easy headline.