Watch and Listen

Paddy Power PR stunt makes hay

Date: 12 March 2012 09:41

Paddy Power’s latest, epic-scale stunt: putting a rider on the White Horse of Uffington.

Now here we have a brand with a formidable reputation when it comes to cunning stuntery.

Perhaps with a nod to fellow countryman O’Leary, they have a flagrant disregard for authority and “the rules” in their approach to brand promotion. Paddy Power has been creating word-of-mouth since they launched on these shores in 2001 – indeed those with long memories might remember their opener: print ads “so brutal” they were banned.

They followed that with their “Hollywood sign” as a two-fingered salute to the official Ryder Cup sponsors (which, incidentally, they were ordered to take down, thereby creating yet more news for themselves).

They (or at least Taylor Herring on their behalf) have been at it again.

On this occasion, with this gem:

Now those with reasonable memories will stroke their chins and acknowledge the genius before briefly whinging that this is a rip off idea: “Homer Simpson meets Cern Abas Giant by Beatwax way back in 2008,” they will say.

To that I say “bollocks”.

Some ideas are truly stand out original, but many of the best campaigns are those that take an idea that has worked and build on it – re-creating it for a new generation of news desk hacks who are green and have short memories of such things.

Why does this stunt work?

  • Because it has front – a certain Irish cheekiness, if you will.

  • Undoubtedly because it had risk attached – always bound to appeal to the gamblers of the turf.

  • Without question because it has scale – of an epic nature.

  • And, of course, it has wit.

  • But most important, it has not wimped out at the last jump.

Many are the clients who would fall in love with the idea and promptly suggest that – in the face of lawyers, English Heritage opprobrium, the Daily Mail-ism of potential backlash – it would be “safer” if they picked a different hill and made their own Uffington Horse.

This idea – and its ultimate success – tells me that there are two maxims that can be forgotten all-too-easily in an industry where everyone is feeling the economic pressure: that it is sometimes better to ask forgiveness than permission and that, in this game and at a time when the war for consumer attention is fierce, it is better to feel the fear and do it anyway than it is never to feel fear in the first place.

This is a first class education in those two lessons. Anyone contemplating a career in PR would do well to learn them.

James Gordon-MacIntosh is a managing partner at Hope&Glory PR and from time-to-time pens Spinning Around, a blog that he describes as “thinking out loud”

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