When an adverts gets everything right but feels so wrong

Today the Advertising Standards Agency gave its adjudication on the Paddy Power TV advert where a blind footballer accidently kicks a cat thinking it’s the ball. Despite 1089 viewers complaining that it was offensive to blind people and condoned cruelty to animals, the ASA found that the advert did not breach the TV Advertising Standards Code for harm and offence.

Despite the media’s (generally outraged) reaction to today’s outcome, Paddy Power have done everything correctly and the advert has achieved exactly what a good advert should:

  • Prior to releasing the advert, Paddy Power researched likely reactions of people who might be offended, in particular seeking the views of relevant charities for the blind and partially sighted.
  • Members of the England Blind Football Team in included in the advert. What’s more they had agreed to participate because it was “a funny script that was supportive of visually impaired sport and would not cause offence to blind people”.
  • The advert also helps raise the profile of a little known sport and was timed to draw attention to the IBSA World Blind Football Championships next month.
  • The advert has contributed to an increased spend on Paddy Power products (through increasing visitor numbers to their website).
  • The advert has achieved widespread additional ‘free’ coverage thanks to the ASA adjudication (‘There is no such thing as bad publicity except your own obituary.’ to quote Irish author Brendan Behan).

This is an advert for a gambling product, not for impressionable children but aimed specifically at adults who should be able to work out that the ad was “completely fictional, surreal and absurd”. Paddy Power always “aim to offer entertaining and innovative campaigns” and it’s clear that the business absolutely understands its target audience’s tastes and humour. Paddy Power are proud of their “dogged refusal to conform” which is probably why this advert makes me feel so uncomfortable.

I am not typical of a “Paddy Power Punter” – and I would hazard a guess that neither are the 1089 people who complained to the ASA! Presumably the company have no interest in us as we will never be punters, but because this was a televised advert broadcast widely, we still got to see it. So whilst it was not targeted specifically at us, what influence might we have on those we know who might be potential customers? For a plc like Paddy Power, our impact would be negligible, but it would hurt smaller businesses.

As a marketer I advise SMEs how to get their promotional messages to match the voice, tone and beliefs of their potential and existing customers. Humour can catch a target’’s attention, but it is such a subjective and emotional element, it is very easy to get wrong. Paddy Power has researched its punters so well that it understands their humour perfectly – how much research have you carried out on the likes and dislikes of your potential audience?

More importantly, if using any form of broadcast media, how well could you cope with the consequences of upsetting those members of the audience you are not targeting – but who might just voice their disapproval of your business? You’ll know when you get it right because you’ll get more sales. But get it wrong and you’ll probably be the last to know – just as your business goes under!

To set you on the right path of knowing how to communicate the message your business wants to promote, in the way your audience wants to hear it, contact me at Pragmatic Performance Group for an initial discussion.


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