Harry Dromey, 'mischief champion' at Paddy Power just gave an enjoyably sweary talk at the Festival of Marketing about the brand's many ways of grabbing attention...
Paddy Power is notorious for its ability to create a news splash, with examples stretching from the sublime – its Rainbow Laces campaign which aims to kick homophobia out of football – to the ridiculous: a plan to send Dennis Rodman on a basketball diplomacy mission to North Korea (since abandoned). It is unsurprising then to discover that controversy or 'sticking it to the man' ("it can be a woman or an organisation," clarified Dromey) is a central element to their marketing strategy.
"It's good to have a target for the story you're telling," he explained. "If you pick up any newspaper, from back to front, it's entirely about conflict.... Conflict, by its nature, is newsworthy."
As entertainment is key to Paddy Power's approach, this target is usually one that many people are happy to see addressed – UEFA, for example – and this then encourages people to 'side' with Paddy Power. "It's essential for us to be at the heart of the action," said Dromey. Recent controversies cited by Dromey included a stunt where the brand appeared to chop down lots of trees in the Amazon to make a statement before the World Cup (it was actually all done in Photoshop), or a classic moment of cheekiness: the time when Danish striker Nicklas Bendtner revealed Paddy Power branded underwear when he scored a goal against Portugal in 2012.
Of the latter, Dromey pointed out that the story only really gained legs when Bendtner was fined a sum that was significantly more than a recent fine against racism. "The pants were barely recognisable on TV, but when the UEFA fine happened it got a second wave of attention," he says. "God bless you UEFA."
The Amazon rainforest story required nerves of steel for the team, apparently, who had to sit through 48 hours of abuse on social media before the fact it was all an elaborate joke was revealed. "The first 48 hours aimed to heap as much hatred and scorn on the brand as possible," said Dromey. "That was an interesting weekend. I now know the c-word in about 30 different languages."
While it might sometimes feel like Paddy Power is just out to antagonise, Dromey stressed that there was method in the brand's seeming madness. "It's not all about nihilistic randomness," he said. "We're always really keen to tell a story or crack a specific joke. Without that story people won't understand what we're talking about, and it won't get coverage.
"We see ourselves as an entertainment brand, rather than a gambling brand – obviously that's our business but we're here to entertain people as well," he continued. And when questioned whether it's ever all gone totally wrong, Dromey alluded to the old adage that there's no such thing as bad publicity, commenting "the only campaigns that have gone totally wrong are the ones you haven't heard about".
Harry Dromey was speaking at the Festival of Marketing, the two-day conference organised by all of Centaur's media brands, including Design Week, Econsultancy, Celebrity Intelligence, Marketing Week and CR. Details here.
For more on Paddy Power, read our feature from the December 2013 issue of Creative Review, here.