Modern Marketing

Let's try not to piss off the will of the people – Mark Borkowski on how Betfair's octopus PR stunt got it wrong

By Mark Borkowski |

June 7, 2014 | 5 min read

Earlier this week, Betfair brought one of London's busiest roads to a standstill when a delivery truck towing a giant octopus prop for one of its ad campaigns 'broke down' in the middle of rush hour. PR expert Mark Borkowski questions the stunt's method and motive.



Let’s suspend all cynicism for a moment. Let’s just go with the truth that the truck ‘broke down’ in the middle of Oxford Circus carrying an oversized Octopus at rush hour (I know) and get to the point.

Betfair's octopus brings Oxford Circus to a halt

Betfair’s stunt, or misfortune, or whatever it was, was misguided. It may have attracted a few columns and conversations on Twitter but it was of the wrong kind. The old cliched ‘any publicity is better than none’ meme. Well not any more. 



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We now know the breakdown was a stunt. We have seen the subsequent launch of its new ad which makes Betfair’s “we are sorry for any inconvenience caused” at the time of the breakdown even more hollow. It was a mere adpology. The same words that we hear everyday on British Rail, TFL, from airlines, banks and just about every other public service and government – the standard format for corporate apologies. Sorry is a subjective word, used with different nuance every day and so far from expressing genuine contrition, governments, businesses, public figures and probably you and I use apologies to divert attention, manage expectations, resuscitate reputations, and when possible, even implicate the victim.



Such is the allure of fame and fortune, brands and celebrities develop defence systems that obscure the consequences of their actions. No matter how bad the headlines get, the one thing worse than being talked about, is not being talked about. Atonement is simply a springboard for shameless self-promotion these days. Reputations used to be hard earned.



Anyway, we have veered from the point. These days brands should aim for maximum traction for the right reasons, and in this instance the devil is in the detail, the planning, the rigorous preparation for every possible angle and circumstance, and then the ability to articulate and deal with the real emotion people are feeling rather than that same old dry political approach. When we do this we engage at a human level, touch and move people and inspire them to take action. Brands are faced with the haters these days and navigating them is the key. They are a challenge but also an advantage when dealt with in a controlled and thoughtful manner.



Still why bother to generate a level of self-inflicted opprobrium through irresponsible planning and hubris, when with careful thinking it is just as easy to avoid? 



Betfair’s octopus has lost any charm it may have gained. He was the vehicle for a round table of admen to masturbate over idea porn and whilst they are and continue to do so, PR has a chance to talk common sense again – to shine a beacon on the truth and the stories, that planned with reality, creativity and perspective engage and drive momentum. Betfair has simply added to the atmosphere of anti-trust and worse, in an industry that should be taking even more care around human emotion and nuance.

The relationship between gamblers and betting sites can touch people profoundly. They involve one of the most intimate, emotional and important things in people’s lives – money. The octopus will simply be remembered for looking slightly nuts on top of a track.

Betfair and others beware. The PR cliche is over and more care and respect is required. BetFair. The clue is surely in the name?

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