From wind-ups to lucky pants, are Paddy Power the kings of PR?

From wind-ups to lucky pants, are Paddy Power the kings of PR?

Paddy Power, if you haven’t heard of them before, are an Irish bookmaker who operate in the UK and Ireland. Paddy Power are a very established name in the betting industry, with shops in over 600 locations. However, many people will mostly be familiar with Paddy Power through their social media accounts. With over 1.5 million likes on Facebook, and over 650,000 followers on Twitter, it is very unlikely that you will not have come across one of their witty posts on your timeline.

Paddy Power use their social media accounts for a mix of betting information and poking fun at others, with the latter being their main point of focus. There is no doubt that if your favourite football team lose a game at the weekend, Paddy Power will pull no punches and be quick to have a laugh at their expense. The bookmaker is also very famous for their PR stunts, which usually come with plenty of talking points and sometimes some controversy. These stunts often get a lot of attention, some good some not so good, but certainly play a part in Paddy Power’s brand image.

One of Paddy Power’s biggest PR stunts was in the lead up to the 2014 FIFA World Cup which was taking place in Brazil. The Irish betting firm posted a message of support for the England national team in preparation for the tournament:

No sooner had this message of support been tweeted until the backlash started. Had Paddy Power really chopped down trees in the Amazon rainforest just as a publicity stunt? Not exactly, however they did let people have their say on social media before revealing the truth.

One user tweeted “@paddypower did you really commission that rainforest stunt? Disgusting! I hope you all go to jail or a long time!”

Another said “Jesus, @paddypower actually did wreck a portion of the rainforest as a publicity stunt? What a clusterf*ck.”

In typical Paddy Power style they replied to one of these tweets stating “we haven’t cut down that much!”

This was quickly picked up by the press and many articles were published, criticising the organisation for this seemingly lack of awareness of a massive global issue, all to raise publicity.

The reality was, Paddy Power had not cut down parts of the Amazon rain forest. In fact, they hadn’t stepped foot in Brazil at all. This was all a 3D model that was created by the guys at Paddy Power in order to create this publicity stunt. After letting the lie go on throughout the weekend, they eventually came clean, and it turned out that they were in fact attempting to raise awareness of the issue of deforestation in this area.

Their campaign to #SaveTheRainforest rather than #ShaveTheRainforest was a welcome relief to many on social media who had first of all slammed Paddy Power for the initial tweet. This in the end was a fantastic PR move by the organisation as they created lots of conversation around the initial post that in turn raised awareness for this wider issue, and presented the organisation as one who cares, rather than one out to destroy the Amazon rainforest for a few retweets.

This of course is not the only stunt Paddy Power has done prior to a World Cup tournament. The latest edition of the competition was held in 2018 in Russia and again the organisation opted for a shocking approach to get people talking about a wider issue. This time, the issue was polar bears and the stunt was not as straightforward as the previous one.

Again, the image and footage of Paddy Power “spray-painting” the St. George’s Cross onto a Polar Bear was leaked to the press causing outrage about this lack of respect for an endangered species. However, as it always goes with Paddy Power, not all was as it initially seemed. This again was completed with the aid of technology and the help of Polar Bear Agee and owner Mark Dumas. The stunt was again an attempt to raise awareness of Polar Bears in Russia and was fairly successful yet again in causing a stir on social media.

The stunts don’t stop there, Paddy Power also enjoy taking advantage of showing the brand on the biggest stages when the whole world are watching. They don’t do this in regular ways such as advertising hoardings at these events, instead they showcase their Paddy Power lucky pants!

In the group stages of the European Championships in 2012, Danish striker Nicklas Bendtner scored against Portugal and proceeded to lower his shorts slightly and raise his jersey to show off his ‘lucky pants’ which were covered in the Paddy Power logo.

The stunt was accepted as funny by the large majority. Unfortunately, in the minority of those who found it not so funny, were the tournament organisers UEFA. They fined the footballer €100,000, which Paddy Power coughed up for, however this was a ludicrous punishment in comparison to the fine handed to the Croatian FA for racist chanting in the same week which was €80,000.

Bendtner was not the only sportsperson to don these infamous pants. In 2017, one of the biggest boxing fights in history took place between Floyd Mayweather and UFC star Conor McGregor. Paddy Power took advantage of this opportunity to show-off their pants with the world watching by getting Floyd to wear them at the weigh in for the bout. The logo on this occasion accompanied a pinstripe print that read ‘always bet on black’ and cost around £3,000 to manufacture, again showing that the betting firm don’t do things by half measures.

It’s fair to say Paddy Power are not afraid of the limelight, whether it be for the right or wrong reasons, and this brazen approach tends to work and hit its mark in majority of cases. There has been times where this close to the wire approach goes too far, such as running betting odds on the first species to be driven to extinction as a result of the BP oil spill on the Gulf of Mexico back in 2010. However, I would personally say that their approach is very effective as regardless of whether the conversation happening is good or bad, at least the conversation is happening. Making change involves making noise, and Paddy Power certainly attempt to do that with stunts like the #SaveTheRainforest. Crowning them the ‘Kings of PR’ may be a bit premature, but it is impossible to ignore them when it comes to high profile PR stunts. Their ability to go as close to the line as they possibly can without crossing must be commended and if they keep this approach, I look forward to what they come up with next.

Phelim Sweeney is a final year BSc Communication Management and Public Relations student at Ulster University. He can be found on LinkedIn

Arsenal Football Club vs. Mesut Özil and Gunnersaurus: A Relationship Gone Sour.

Arsenal Football Club vs. Mesut Özil and Gunnersaurus: A Relationship Gone Sour.

You may have heard recently that Arsenal Football Club have made the decision to relieve club mascot ‘Gunnersaurus’ of his duties, after 27 years of being with the club. As Arsenal are one of the biggest football clubs in world with an incredible amount of financial backing and turnover, this decision did not go down well with Arsenal fans or the general public.

How can a football club spending £350k a week on a player who keeps the bench warm justify sacking a fan favourite mascot, who would be on a much more humble wage packet? That player in question, is German World Cup winner Mesut Özil and this is where this story gets very interesting, going much deeper than it initially seems.

Mesut Özil joined Arsenal from Spanish giants Real Madrid in 2013 and immediately made an impact on and off the pitch. As well as being recognised for being world class on the pitch, Mesut has been praised for many of the things he has done off the pitch as well. He boasts 25 million Twitter followers and 22.2 million followers on Instagram. This is in comparison to Arsenal, his employer, which has 16.4 million followers on Twitter and 18.4 million on Instagram. His social media presence is massive, and there have been many occasions which he has used his large platform for good causes.

In 2014, Mesut Özil was announced as an ambassador for the ‘Big Shoe’ initiative which uses the FIFA World Cup as inspiration to fund operations for young people around the world. The 2014 World Cup took place in Brazil, and while the tournament was ongoing and Mesut was on the pitch winning the World Cup for his country, he funded 11 operations for children in Brazil the host nation. He promoted this project across his social media to raise awareness of this charity and the cause. Most recently, he has helped 40 children get life-changing surgery in Myanmar, Southeast Asia through this charity. This charity work gave Mesut lots of good publicity and was well backed by many football fans online who praised Mesut for his generosity.

However, this story begins to turn sour when in December 2019, Mesut used his platform to raise awareness of a much more different issue, the mistreatment of the Uighur Muslims in China. He released a statement across all of his social media accounts to raise awareness of this issue and was quoted as stating that the Uighur Muslims in China were “warriors who resist persecution”. Mesut himself is a Muslim and this was an issue clearly close to his heart, however this did not go down smoothly with the Chinese population or his employers at Arsenal.

China immediately reacted by pulling one of Arsenal’s games from the state TV schedule and some Chinese fans even burnt his jerseys in protest. The most significant statement however, came from Arsenal who made it clear that these were the views of Mesut and not of the football club by stating the club “always adheres to the principles” of not getting involved in politics on the Chinese social media site Weibo. Arsenal’s statement was an attempt to keep China on their good side as at the end of the day, Arsenal are a business with millions of Chinese fans and to cut off that revenue stream would be quite idiotic from the outside looking in. However I believe there comes a time to stand up for what is right and in this instance, Mesut is in the right. This is a crisis I would not have been aware of if it were not for the Germans statement and I was not alone in the view that Arsenal’s “statement” if you can even call it that, was very disappointing.

This all coincided with Özil dropping out of the team as the club took on a new first team manager. It’s widely accepted that this is due to his lack of form when he was playing, however is it worth questioning whether or not these public disagreements off the pitch has contributed to his lack of playing time? I think it’s possible, especially as this PR battle did not end here.

We are all now well aware of the shocking events that took place in America in which George Floyd was killed by an American police officer, which resulted in the more prominent promotion of the Black Lives Matter movement. The Premier League and all of its clubs backed this movement by displaying Black Lives Matter on the back of jerseys and players taking a knee before each game as the league kicked off again during the Covid-19 pandemic. Arsenal were very vocal in their support of this movement with lots of content on social media tagging #BlackLivesMatter.

All of this left Mesut scratching his head as when it came to the Muslim crisis in China, why was he was left on his own? Özil was supportive of the BLM movement and this is something him and the club agrees on however it must have been bittersweet to think that after their reply to his statement in December, they’ve now got involved in this as heavily as they have. He did an interview with sports outlet The Athletic and was disappointed in Arsenal and was quoted as saying “I have given a lot to Arsenal, on and off the pitch, so the reaction was disappointing. They said they don’t get involved in politics but this isn’t politics and they have got involved in other issues.”

This brings me onto the most recent news and the latest in this PR battle between the high profile star and his football club, beloved mascot Gunnersaurus. The man in the suit is called Jerry Quy and has held the job of being Arsenal’s mascot for 27 years, however he is the latest Arsenal staff member to fall victim to the Covid-19 sackings. He along with 55 others have found themselves redundant as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. These redundancies have not been received well by football fans as this is a football club who can afford to pay around £1 million in wages to players and coaches each week, but can’t afford to keep low level staff who are on much lower wages.

The latest and most high profile sacking however was Gunnersaurus. This already was giving the club a bad name, but then Mesut Özil decided he needed to do something about it. A day after the news broke, Özil released a statement on his social media “offering to reimburse Arsenal with the full salary of our big green guy as long as I will be an Arsenal player so Jerry can continue his job that he loves so much”. A very classy move by Özil which was applauded by many across football including young superstar Kylian Mbappe.

However, how bad does this make Arsenal look? Having a player cover the cost of your mascot’s wages? And of all players, it’s Mesut who has publicly has disagreements with the club before? It does not shine Arsenal in a good light at all, once again. Some may be of the opinion that Özil is doing this so publicly as a way to embarrass the club as payback for the previous issues between himself and the club. There are rumours that Arsenal did plan on giving Jerry his job back once fans were allowed back in to the stadiums and this had all been blown out of proportion however there has been no official word of this as of yet.

A relationship that started so rosy between Arsenal and Mesut Özil has soured in recent months and has the potential to end as a PR battle between both parties with Mesut’s contract due to expire in 2021. So far I would say that Mesut has won this battle of the statements as his bravery to use his platform to speak up on these issues is to be applauded. Arsenal may not have come out of this looking the best that they could, but they could still have the last say on this if they decide to bring Jerry back. At the moment it’s all up in the air about Mesut’s future at Arsenal Football Club but I also doubt that this is the last PR war the two have against each other.

Phelim Sweeney is a final year BSc Communication Management and Public Relations student at Ulster University. He can be found on LinkedIn.