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Oscar Pistorius: Has Paddy Power Gone too Far This Time?

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Paddy Power’s latest ad campaign gathered a record number of complaints.

Paddy Power has beaten its own records. The record for written complaints about an ad campaign, that is. The company’s latest commercial features a mock-up of Oscar Pistorius as an Academy Award and invites customers to place bets on the outcome of his murder trial. It also promises refunds for all losing bets, should the South African Paralympian be found not guilty.

With over 5,200 complaints addressed to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), plus another 122,000 signatures on an online petition, this has become the most criticized campaign ever. Overwhelmed by the number of people protesting against it, the authority decided to ban the ads before it even got a chance to actually look into the problem.

The ASA can only ban the ads from the UK and doesn’t have authority over Paddy Power’s online sportsbook in Ireland.

Who does the ad offend?

This is not about whether Oscar Pistorius is guilty or innocent. Sure, people like to pass judgment and a huge murder trial like this will always be a popular topic of discussion in the local pub. And this is precisely what Paddy Power wanted to exploit: the popularity of the subject.

It is up to the Court to decide whether the athlete is a murder or not, but no matter how you look at it, the story is a real tragic one. Last year, on Valentine’s Day, Pistorius fired four shots through the bathroom door, claiming that he thought a stranger had entered his apartment. His girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, was inside. The Paralympian pleaded not guilty and claimed he didn’t mean to kill the woman.

As the trial goes on, Paddy Power caused outrage by launching an ad campaign with the following text: “It’s Oscar Time. Money back if he walks”. People who have complained about the advert accused Paddy Power of trivializing the death of Reeva Steenkamp. But hasn’t the media already taken care of that? There are actual live updates from the murder trial. People are already watching the event, just like a football match.

Should the victim’s parents be offended by it? While their hearts may be broken, they did not avoid the spotlight after their daughter’s death. They admitted that Reeva was supporting them financially, claiming that they were “forced” to sue their daughter’s killer.

Should Pistorius be offended? You’d think shooting a person four times – intruder or not – would already attract bad publicity, with or without a controversial ad campaign.

Have they gone too far?

About 175,000 people seem to believe so, yes, if you count both the signatures on the online petition and the written complaints that the ASA has received. This usually leads to an investigation, but now the authority claimed the public’s indignation was so overwhelming that it simply had to take the “unusual step” of pulling the ad immediately.

Things have gone so far that the ASA is not just looking at whether the ad is offensive, but also thinking it might have “brought the good reputation of advertising generally into dispute”.

“We consider the ad may be seriously prejudicial to the general public on the ground of the likely further serious and/or widespread offence it may cause,” the authority said in a statement.

Paddy Power claims the ad was only meant to run on Sunday, following the Oscars, but this was enough to trigger the biggest number of complaints ever received against a commercial.

Kings of controversy

Paddy Power has certainly changed the face of online and mobile betting. The company is known for its clever – and often offensive – advertisement. One of the company’s most famous posters showed two old women crossing the street, as a car was approaching, with the message “Let’s make things more interesting”.

Another video ad showed blind people playing football and one player accidentally kicking a cat which had run to the field. “Paddy Power can’t get Tiddles back, there’s nothing we can do about that, but we can get you your money back with our money-back specials,” the advert said.

There were waves of complaints when the Irish bookmaker put up billboards featuring Jesus and the apostles gambling at the Last Supper, or when it ran a video ad showing Jesus Christ trying to clean up the Italian football industry.

With such a scandalous commercial, someone was bound to be offended and that’s precisely what Paddy Power’s marketers were aiming for. This was nothing but a crafty and bold strategy, looking to tap into the dark side of people.

In the end, whether the ads stay or not, Paddy Power has reached its goal. The company managed to attract everyone’s attention. Newspapers are writing about it and people are reading about it. It couldn’t have worked out better.

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