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Paddy Power's polarising World Cup bear stunt revealed as charity awareness drive


By John McCarthy, Opinion Editor

June 7, 2018 | 5 min read

Paddy Power has lifted the lid on its controversial polar bear graffiti stunt that incensed much of the public and some in the marketing community.

Paddy Power

Paddy Power lifts the lid on its polar bear prank

On Tuesday, the Irish bookmaker leaked supposedly ‘live’ footage of a Russian polar bear being emblazoned with an England flag. It also announced the move with a full-on newspaper wrap in The Metro. The ad read England ‘til I dye.

Vigilant marketers noted that the stunt was not entirely dissimilar to the Shave the Rain Forest stunt at the Brazil 2014 World Cup. This work also duped the public and the media before being revealed as a Greenpeace partnership. (The Drum recently spoke to former Paddy Power head of mischief Ken Robertson about this stunt.)

With the polar bear stunt, outraged feedback propagated for two days including some allegations that the work was "shameful". In response, Paddy Power has taken over the Metro newspaper yet again for a UK-wide reveal. The stunt was in fact orchestrated to draw attention to the plight of the polar bear in the Russian Arctic.

The Metro ad was laden with bear puns and reads as follows.

“Please fur-give us. Our footage of a spray-painted polar bear wasn’t real. But the animal’s plight very much is. Our footage caused social media to meltdown almost as quickly as the polar bear’s home in the Russian Arctic. And while the bear’s habitat is reduced massively in size each year, with scientists crying out for information and access to the region, Putin turns a blind eye because of big business and oil.

“We can’t bear it any more so Paddy Power has teamed up with Polar Bears International to fund their first Russian polar bear research programme. Yes, We’re putting our big furry pals front and centre, because while the England team can build for the future, the polar bear is skating on thin ice.”

Watch the PR stunt below.

Speaking to The Drum, Paul Mallon, head of major brand activations at Paddy Power, opened up on the mentality driving the bold marketing effort, but denied that outrage was the best way to grab the public eye.

"Being original is the best way to grab attention," he said. " Shock and outrage just for the sake of it are done. South Park is 21 years old and at this stage even your parents have seen the Book of Mormon. Very little is shocking these days to audiences who'll get very engaged with intelligent political debates, but then also be glued to Love Island.

"People are consuming so much content in all shapes and forms that being outrageous just for the hell of it is a huge risk to getting cut-through. So we don't want to be just taking the piss with no sharp-witted element behind it (mostly, at least)."

The campaign misled the public, at least initially. Deceiving the public is a more visible issue than when Shave the Rainforest circulated in 2014 - especially with president Trump leaning on the 'fake news' catchphrase to discredit mainstream media's contribution to society.

Mallon admitted that it can be hard to prank the public, especially with Paddy Power's history in doing so. " People can be sceptical, particularly of a brand with a history of dupes. But there's a reason bands still re-release their old records or greatest hits collections - there's always a fresh batch."

The brand has sustained criticism for the work but Mallon "doesn't mind taking the hits, if in the long run there's a benefit for either our customers or how they perceive the brand".

He said: "Ultimately my job is about not preaching to the converted but trying to get Paddy Power as a brand out of our sector. After the World Cup we'll know whether this campaign was worth it, but I'm really proud of this, and how we've worked for several months with Polar Bears International, dozens of PP staff (from cyber threat departments to senior counsels) and the Pitch Marketing Group who came to us with the idea."

The brand has shared how the stunt came together here or in the video below.

And, catch up with the rest of The Drum's World Cup coverage here.

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