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Paddy Power ad begs the question what is too far in PR?

Earlier this week bookmaker and general mischief lovers Paddy Power caused a stir by offering odds on whether Oscar Pistorius would be found not guilty of killing his wife.

The firm, famed for their uncompromising PR style, offered ‘money back if he walks’ to their punters and in doing so caused more than 110,000 people to sign a petition which eventually saw the ad investigated by the ASA.

There is no doubt that the Pistorius story is one of, if not the biggest of the week – rivalling even the conflict between Russia and the Ukraine. It has attracted significant media mileage and will continue to do so as soon as a verdict is reached in the coming days.

Paddy Power's advert has caused outrage

Paddy Power’s advert has caused outrage

On the face of it this is an ideal story for a firm to attach themselves to yet at the same time one most companies wouldn’t touch with a bargepole.

Paddy Power are masters of getting the most PR bang for their buck and have once again managed to secure coverage across the press for the last three days for the minimal outlay of mocking up a very simple advert. However this approach does beg the question, ‘Where do you draw the line at using offence as an awareness tool?’

A representative from the firm said they were simply doing what they did best – offering odds on events which were important to their customers – a line which ensures a positive message still transcends this story laced with negativity.

I think most of us would agree that Paddy Power overstepped the mark but I think their PR team would respond that we are all discussing the piece and as such it can be viewed as a success. The line ‘if he walks’ is a particular low blow though. Yes, is it a well-known legal phrase but I’d be staggered if it wasn’t a much more personal dig at the Paralympic athlete.

Paddy Power may be a ‘cheeky’ company but behind this image lies an extremely creative, bold and active PR team with a Michael O’Learyesque approach to publicity. Betting is a fiercely competitive industry where odds are everything and awareness of them is essential to survive so in many ways this approach should be applauded.

However this story pans out Paddy Power will be better known amongst consumers worldwide due to this week’s stunt. Crossing the line is a risky business but the rewards for doing so in the right way can be significant. Now we as a society need to decide whether we’re really offended or appreciate their risqué take on world events.

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