The ASA has today ordered Paddy Power to immediately withdraw its controversial Oscar Pistorius campaign offering "money back if he walks" after the ad received more than 5,000 complaints in the last 24 hours.
The advertising watchdog cited "exceptional circumstances" for fast-tracking its usual investigation process and forcing Paddy Power to remove the ad from circulation in all UK media.
It said in a statement: “We consider the ad may be seriously prejudicial to the general public on the ground of the likely further serious and/or widespread offence it may cause."
The unprecedented level of complaints led to Channel 4 describing it as the most complained about UK ad of all time.
Yesterday the bookmaker stood by its ad, saying: “We’re simply offering betting on the outcome of a trial – whether Pistorius is guilty or not guilty. Given the rolling coverage of this trial, everyone will be openly talking about it and speculating on the verdict.
“We stand by our decision to run both the ad and betting on the outcome of the trial." Paddy Power has also been contacted for comment today and we are awaiting a response.
Only twice before has the ASA forced companies to remove their ads before it has fully investigated them. In 2004, a Tango ad featuring a young man being rolled down a hill in an orange carpet was suspended after it was deemed it could lead to harm if replicated, and in 2006 an ad for online betting site ThePool.com had an ad that contained the line ‘Why wait ‘til 18? Bet at 16’ in it suspended.
The organisation only has jurisdiction in the UK, however, explaining: "The ASA is not investigating complaints about the ad appearing on Paddy Power’s own website. The advertiser is based in Ireland and as a consequence the material on its website falls outside our remit.”
It is understood that the ASA's counterparts in Ireland are now also investigating the campaign.
Ian Twinn, director of public affairs at ad industry body ISBA, said: “We firmly support our independent regulator and back it in upholding its duty. In this case, feelings from the public were running very high and the ASA used its judgment and the powers the ad industry has given it, to act quickly and do its job. We believe this decision helps support responsible advertisers in their own campaigns.”
UPDATED: A Paddy Power spokesperson said in response to the ruling: “In your face, KFC.”