The opportunist bookmakers Paddy Power caused outrage last week by taking bets on the outcome of the Oscar Pistorius murder trial.
For them moral decency, respect for the judicial process and a lack of awareness about the dangers of promoting violence against women were inconsequential, with the publicity stunt going so far that the Advertising Standards Agency requested its removal.
The 27-year-old double Paralympic gold medallist is accused of murdering his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp on the night of the 14th February 2013. He claims to have mistaken her for an intruder. Without contemplating the implications, Paddy Power offered 7/4 for a guilty verdict and 2/5 for not guilty, with a money back offer guaranteed ‘if he walks’. This is arguably one of the most distasteful advertising campaigns in the history of publicity as it shows now concern for the Steenkamp family, no consideration about the wider implications concerning violence towards women and ultimately, it has significant implications for the judicial process – which has already been questioned by some as the media circus descends on South Africa.
Social media outrage began with a vengeance immediately after reports about the scandalous bet filtered over Facebook and Twitter. A Change.org petition was shared rapidly across the internet and a staggering 126,000 signatures were added within a couple of days at the time of printing. This is a clear example of people power working to bring organisations to account. Last week saw a far less useful petition gather momentum – that of England fans begging manager Roy Hodsgon not to pick Tom Cleverley for the World Cup in Brazil, but that is a completely different matter. Thankfully the social media generation saw sense and were horrified with the tasteless Paddy Power publicity stunt and they piled the pressure on the Advertising Standards Agency who in turn forced the Irish bookies’ hand.
In response, the ASA made the following statements:
“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.”
“We are also concerned that the good reputation of the advertising industry may be further damaged by continued publication of this ad.”
It’s certainly not the first time that Paddy Power has been making headlines for the wrong reasons. In fact, they thrive on making headlines, relying on the saying that there is no such thing as bad publicity. In the past we’ve seen them cause offence to: the transgender community with an advert playing spot the mares from the stallions at the Cheltenham races, the religious community were upset with their depiction of Jesus gambling at the Last Supper with his disciples and animal rights activists and disability groups were angered by an advert in which blind footballers mistakenly punt a kitten while playing a game of five-a-side.
Betting on the Pistorius case isn’t the only morbid and judicially troubling publicity stunt the Irish bookmakers have pulled – in President Barack Obama’s first term in office Paddy Power offered odds on whether Mr Obama would be assassinated. As with many of these other cases, half-hearted apologies and a promises to remove the offending adverts allowed the disgraceful marketing department to get away with the most distasteful and disrespectful practices in advertising history.
I would advocate three solutions to this shocking publicity stunt: firstly, Paddy Power should wholeheartedly apologise to the Steenkamp family, secondly, they should make a donation to a charity that helps prevent violence against women and thirdly, they should refrain from creating tabloid filling publicity that promotes violence of any kind or any discrimination. These steps would go some way to repairing the damage caused by irresponsible campaigning.
If you want to sign the petition go to www.change.org and search ‘Paddy Power.’