Paddy Power ‘head of mischief’ Ken Robertson speaks to The Drum about the year when marketing convention went out the window for the brand.
The fact that Paddy Power employs somebody with the job title ‘head of mischief’ says it all. This is a brand that doesn’t buy into the conventional, particularly when its marketing is concerned. It is likely we will see many more brands in 2013 go down the Paddy Power route as they look not so much as to join the conversation, but give their target market something to talk about. Paddy Power, like a cuddly version of Ryanair, has routinely made headlines throughout the year with its very own brand of ambush marketing. The terms ‘counter-corporate’, ‘cheeky’ and ‘irreverent’ could all be used to describe it, but so too could ‘pioneering’, ‘stand-out’ and – from a social media perspective – ‘sharable’. The man with the plan, and grand ‘head of mischief’ title, is Ken Robertson, who told The Drum: “Paddy Power is in a unique position in the way that it employs mischief as a marketing tool because mischief is central to the Paddy Power brand.” He went one to explain some of the brand’s antics, which have included:
- Provoking Olympic organisers by apparently breaking advertising rules with a 48 sheet mainline rail station poster which claimed they were sponsoring the ‘largest sporting event in London (France) this year’. As well as the publicity the ad generated, it also led to the threat of legal action which itself generated even more publicity.
- A stunt where it invited tweets in support of the European Ryder Cup team, which were then skywritten above the golf course in real time. This included a message wishing Tiger Woods luck, which purported to be from one of the women he had an affair with. Whether the ploy distracted Woods or not is hard to say, but the stunt again got Paddy Power attention.
- Arranging for Nicklas Bendtner to celebrate a European Championship goal by flashing his Paddy Power underpants. That got the player a €100,000 fine, but generated publicity worth a lot more.
“It’s really important that you provoke some reaction from somebody. That’s the key element,” said Robertson. “Paddy Power was one of the first organisations to work in the mischief marketing space who understood investing in brand and growing and developing that brand. “The brand created back in those days was trying to be a cheeky upstart, similar in the way that Ryanair was, and from that grew this element of mischief which is very much part of the Paddy Power DNA. In terms of the present day, that permeates the entire marketing mix, so it’s a core element that includes all of our above- the-line, TV, social and corporate communications. “The Nicklas Bendtner stunt was a great example. We got a reaction from Uefa who imposed the €100,000 fine, which fed oxygen to the entire campaign, sending it nuclear. Other examples of this include a stunt which saw us installing a jockey on the Uffington White Horse [a 3,000 year old chalk rendition of a horse in the Berkshire Downes]. We then issued a press release and got a reaction. “Last year we installed a 120ft Paddy Power sign in the Cotswolds. It’s really important that you elicit some reaction from someone as that creates more of a story. It is all about provoking some level of reaction, but 99 per cent of the people engage with the activity – they can’t get enough of it.” As to where the ideas come from, he explains that they are generated by “a confusion of sources” coming either from in-house or proposed by agencies, who may offer an embryonic suggestion. But of course stunts can go wrong, as an Australian radio station recently found out. And when they do, the world of social media is an unforgiving place. So how does Paddy Power know were the boundaries are? “We wouldn’t purposefully set out to do anything that we honestly believed could cause widespread offence. There is a line in the sand that you just don’t cross. That’s common sense. You’re not going to come out with a campaign that is going to piss off 99 per cent of the people who see it – that’s not what we’re about. We’re not about shock advertising, we’re about creating engaging and fun advertising that will provoke a reaction from a small minority of people that will help us build the campaign.” So it’s all about fun, not the shock factor. But what other lessons can Paddy Power teach brands wanting to think their way into the mainstream media as opposed to buying their way into it? Giles Moffat, managing director of brand experience agency Marmaduke Grimwig, believes we are only just beginning to see this form of marketing take hold. And the fact that many are jaded with traditional advertising – even the stuff broadcast through digital routes – means this trend will build momentum. He told The Drum: “If you effectively invent your own media, then of course it’s going to stand out. It’s far easier to be original, do something different, mesmerise, surprise and engage with people through unconventional media. The trick is to get it out there beyond the initial audience. And to exercise good judgement (unlike a certain Sydney radio station). Pepsi’s Concorde was one of the greatest, as was Red Bull’s recent space dive – both were stunts on the surface, but like all good stunts strategically thought through, and with highly orchestrated amplification through the media and social networks.” Anthony Ganjou, CEO of CURB Media, agrees. And he is somebody who also knows what he is talking about. He not only helped Paddy Power with its skywriting stunt but also picked up the Grand Prix at the recent Clear Channel sponsored Creative Out of Home Awards. His winning campaign was for the film Contagion, and featured one poster in Canada. But that poster was impregnated with special bacteria – which saw the word ‘Contagion’ appear on the initially blank poster as the bugs grew. It was an enormous social media hit. He said: “The next five or ten years will see more companies as part of their communications mix doing remarkable and extraordinary things. It could be an amnesty event or something that supports a cultural movement; they won’t only be doing abrasive ambush marketing. But when it comes to Paddy Power this stuff is at the centre of its brand and it certainly helps it create stand out moments.”