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Column Paddy Power’s ‘Oscar Time’ gets a guilty verdict in the court of public opinion

Offering odds in a situation where a person has died and a potential crime is being investigated is a step too far, says Alan Tyrrell, who lays out some rules for companies dealing with publicity mistakes.

MANY OF US love Paddy Power. In some ways the brand is a proxy for Ireland.  The irreverence, the fun, winning against the odds (pun intended!) – not to mention the share price performance since flotation.

In Paddy Power’s case, and like that of many other businesses, this success all links back to a carefully cultivated brand tone of voice, brand strategy and reputation management approach that has served the company very well over many years.

Until recently.

The company’s decision to run with ‘Oscar Time’ has received the equivalent of a guilty verdict in the court of public opinion. This highlights the delicate nature of public reaction when your brand goes ‘off message’.

And it’s important to be clear – the Oscar Time ad was off message for Paddy Power. Yes, you can offer odds on news events, political events and any other event that people have an opinion on. But offering odds on a situation where a person has died and where a potential crime is being investigated was clearly a step too far for the public and the regulators.

While some have said the approach was an attempt by really clever marketing and PR people to court publicity by being controversial, that does not stand up to scrutiny. In fact, much like the response from Coca Cola when New Coke failed, “…we’re not that clever and we’re not that dumb…”, it is more likely that this was down to an error of judgement. It’s happened before and it will happen again so what should companies do when dealing with a mistake like this.

There are a few simple rules.

Rule Number 1: Think in advance about the consequences of your actions. Imagine the absolute worst possible outcome. Then plan accordingly. Roy Keane calls it planning and in the boardrooms of the world it’s sometimes known as a Corporate Reputation Risk Management Strategy.

Rule Number 2: Don’t wait for regulators and a 100,000 strong army of petition wavers to tell you that you are wrong. Keep your eyes and ears open. The Corporate Reputation Risk Management Strategy might call this the ‘Feedback Loop ’.

Rule Number 3: Say sorry first. Don’t wait to be forced to say sorry. Don’t wait to be asked to say sorry. Just say sorry and mean it. The Corporate Reputation Risk Management Strategy should call this ‘say sorry’.

Rule Number 4: Prove you mean it by changing how you do things to ensure it does not happen again (read rule Number 1 if you are unsure here).

Rule Number 5: Keep going. Let customers know you are still in business, that you are better for learning from the mistake and that you will impress them even more in the future.

Sometimes things go wrong. This week may not be one that Paddy Power wants to repeat but nor is it one that they should want to forget. It is one they can learn from and Paddy Power – in every sense – is nothing if not resilient so they should bounce back.

Paddy Power is a great brand and this issue will hopefully be just a blip in an otherwise stellar brand strategy. The lesson for everyone is that tone of voice is vital to brand and business success. But it must always be tempered with good judgement. When judgement falters, well, we know the rest …

Alan Tyrrell is Deputy Managing Director of Pembroke Communications where he leads the Corporate and Issues Management Team.

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