Magazine article Marketing

The Marketing Interview - Christian Woolfenden, Paddy Power

Magazine article Marketing

The Marketing Interview - Christian Woolfenden, Paddy Power

Article excerpt

The Irish bookmaker's marketing director is staunch in his defence of its mischief-making as he steps up its international growth activity, writes Gemma Charles.

Paddy Power never set out to wind people up, insists Christian Woolfenden as he seeks to position the brand as a lovable rogue rather than attention-seeking pest. Instead, he says: 'We set out to entertain our consumers and have a bit of fun.'

'Mischief' is the guiding philosophy behind the brand's marketing and has been a core aspect of the business from the outset. Woolfenden, marketing director at the Irish bookmaker, says this stems from one of its founders, Stuart Kenny - an embodiment of 'mischief and entertainment'. It is embraced by the whole business, so it is common for colleagues to pitch mischievous ideas.

To get the most out of this USP, Woolfenden has even handed Paddy Power PR man Ken Robertson the title 'head of mischief'. Mounting a giant vuvuzela and then a zozulica - a Ukrainian clay whistle with a tone as annoying as the South African horn - on a branded car was one of the stunts organised by Robertson for Euro 2012. The erection of a 100ft Roy the Redeemer, modelled on Brazil's famous Christ the Redeemer statue, but with England Football manager Roy Hodgson's face, was another stunt pulled off in the run-up to the tournament.

'If you look at the brand equity, mischief is about being funny and irreverent, not offensive, a nuisance or reckless. Anything like this would start to be off-brand equity,' says Woolfenden, adding that it is 'niche' groups that complain about its marketing.

Nonetheless, it sometimes seems that not a day goes by without Paddy Power upsetting someone or becoming embroiled in a row. So far this year the ASA has received 552 complaints about 52 Paddy Power ads - a high rate, by industry standards.

The most complained-about was 'Ladies Day', a TV ad that ran in February. It asked viewers to decide whether racegoers at Ascot were 'transgendered ladies', using the line 'Spot the stallions from the mares'. The spot, created by Paddy Power's ad agency, Crispin, Porter & Bogusky, sparked 400 complaints to the regulator, which ordered it off air, saying it 'irresponsibly reinforced negative stereotypes' and 'trivialised' a complex issue.

Revelling in the notoriety, Paddy Power's next ad - showing 'chavs' being shot with a tranquilliser gun to prevent them ruining the Cheltenham Festival - was promoted online as 'too hot for TV' by the bookmaker.

More recently, it baited LOCOG by running a limited number of outdoor ads at London railway stations, proclaiming: 'Official sponsor of the largest athletics event in London this year! There you go, we said it (Ahem, London, France that is).'

When the Games organiser tried to get the ads removed, Paddy Power threatened to take the battle to the High Court. Eventually LOCOG backed down - but not before substantial media coverage had been generated.

Running controversial activity with an eye on the publicity that a ban or condemnation will generate is a common strategy used by insurgent brands without the ad budgets to buy consumer attention. Ryanair is a past master at this, while self-styled 'punk' craft brewer BrewDog, which makes limited-edition products that contravene drinks marketing rules, is swiftly learning the ropes.

Woolfenden, however, insists that Paddy Power's activity is not designed simply to get a rise out of people to amplify its output.

'If LOCOG had never seen the ad, it wouldn't have mattered in the slightest,' he insists. 'When 'Ladies Day' was banned, it was a pain. We'd worked closely with Clearcast and spent money to shoot it, so we didn't want it taken off air.'

Whether you believe this or not, a fact beyond dispute is that Paddy Power is a business in rude health.

Across its various markets - which, as well as the UK and Ireland, include Australia, France and Canada - its 2011 annual report reveals record turnover of EUR4. …

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