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Gambling with your PR: Six of the best gambling PR stunts

Blog post   •   Feb 10, 2015 17:00 GMT

With the recent publicity stunt by Paddypower in backing David Ginola’s failed bid for the FIFA presidency with campaign #teamginola, we at Mynewsdesk thought to share some of the PR punts that organisations in one of the UK’s largest industries have taken in the past. 

A few stats and facts

  • The average spend per household on gambling in 2013 was £166
  • OFCOM reported that television advertising spots taken by gaming companies increased from 152,000 in 2006 to 1.39m in 2012.

So what part have various PR stunts played in this growth?

Gamble Aware and The Gambling Commission are two industry regulators that communications professionals in betting companies need to appease, mainly by showing that their companies are behaving responsibly. That’s a tall order.

Reviewing six of the best gambling PR stunts

Below are six questionable and humourous PR activities that have been launched in an industry that is open to criticism, but does not have the same restrictions as let’s say alcohol, tobacco or fast food companies, who face the same challenges in raising brand awareness and promoting sales.

1. Over ‘Power’ the BlatterDavid Ginola & Paddy Power Fifa leadership campaign

Arguably the most topical gambling PR stunt carried out in 2015 so far.

An unnamed organisation originally put forward £250,000 to back ex-PSG, Newcastle, Tottenham, Aston Villa, Everton and French international David Ginola to run for the FIFA presidency against the unpopular incumbent Sepp Blatter.

It quickly became apparent that it was indeed Paddypower (the often fun but controversial betting firm) who were the backers, but they strongly deny it was a PR stunt.

As it turned out #teamginola failed to make the £2.3m needed to run for football’s top position, but this crowdfunding campaign certainly gave Paddypower some headlines. Perhaps Monsieur Ginola ‘is not worth it’ when it came to investing in his presidency credentials…

Verdict: Paddypower Win - Just!

2. MysticFred Early Cash Out

Refund: Betfred owner Fred Done (left) will pay out £200,000 worth of bets on United winning the league

What’s one of the big no no’s when placing a bet?

Letting emotion cloud your judgement.

Sadly Betfred owner and Manchester United fan Fred Done allowed his heart to overrule his head when he rashly paid out early on all bets placed on Manchester United to win the title in 1998.

At the time Manchester United were twelve points clear of Arsenal, only to lose the title by one point costing the bookmaker an estimated £500,000. However Betfred were the first bookmaker to carry out such a daring PR exercise and many did copy in the years to follow. It’s now a popular PR tactic employed by bookmakers.

Paddypower has already coughed up a whopping £400,000 early on Chelsea winning the title this season, despite making the same mistake as Done’s Betfred and having to pay out twice in 2013. In 2012 Betfred made the same mistake again and paid out early on Manchester United to win the league as Manchester City pipped them to the title.

But does the press attention on such a gamble outweigh the potential losses?

Clearly accountants at the HQ’s of these organisations seem to think so, but as an outsider looking in it seems to be an old trick used too often and the true value and return on this stunt must be near impossible to measure. Perhaps it’s best to try and bet every season on which bookie will pay out early first!

Either way Betfred did start a trend and should be recognised for their half million initial ‘investment’.

Verdict: Score Draw For All Bookmakers


3. Gambling for a Degree
Havas_PR_Ladbrokes_Betting_for_Degree

Taking a degree in this day and age can be an expensive investment.

What if you could be rewarded for predicting your own performance?

Back in 2013 this is what formed in 1886 and the country’s largest bookmaker Ladbrokes introduced with the option for pending proud parents or students alike to 'bet on their own degree'.

This was of course received with mixed feelings and it’s questionable what exactly Ladbrokes’ motives are here. The claim is to obviously raise their brand amongst parents/relatives as they try and offer something unique and different to the market. Understandable, from a business perspective.

This tactic saw them criticised for encouraging students to gamble, despite there being a £10 limit. Statistics like these do not help Ladbrokes’ cause in defending this promotion:

  • 20% of students have resorted to gambling to help pay their fees
  • a recent survey at Leeds University showed 60% of students gamble frequently

It is a struggle to understand the real PR benefit here, perhaps to create conversations between students on this bizarre betting offer. With the limit of £10 a bet, Ladbrokes has tried to play within the rules of responsible gambling but maybe created more PR challenges for themselves.

Verdict: Ladbrokes Loss - there seems so little to gain from this exercise.


4. The ‘Wacky Races’ of CSR PR
The conservation foundation & Ladbrokes' Big Bird Race

In 2004 Ladbrokes showed how to create positive PR through their 'Big Bird Race'.

Promoted as the ‘Grand National of Birds’, the idea was to electronically tag and race seventeen Tasmanian Albatrosses to fly the Southern Ocean to raise awareness of the endangered bird group. The earnings from this event would then go towards various seabird conservation projects. The idea was initially conceived by the UK Conservation Society then backed by Ladbrokes and a number of celebrities such as Steve Davis, Jerry Hall, Johnny Vegas, Sir David Attenborough, Frankie Detorri and Ellen McArthur.

For the record, Jerry Hall’s Tasmanian Shy Albatross called ‘Aphrodite’ swooped in as the winner.

In 2005 the event was unsuccessful as all seventeen birds went missing during the race. Happily the good work had been done to raise awareness of the species' plight. Of course Ladbrokes came out looking pretty responsible, generous and caring.

Verdict: Ladbrokes win.


5. A PR stunt that was by no means a ‘load of pants’

Most of us remember it and it would be wrong not to add it to this eclectic mix of past gambling PR stunts.

Nicklas Bendtner displayed the emerald green pants of Paddypower after scoring in football’s Euro 2014 game against Portugal.

This breached sponsorship rights handed out and negotiated by UEFA, plus the Danish FA who had a partnership with rival bookmaker Ladbrokes.

However, it was not just Bendtner’s ‘lucky pants’ (which was his explanation), that raised exposure for Paddypower. Bendtner’s staggering £80,000 fine and ban from Denmark’s next European match handed out by UEFA did the trick. This was seen as ridiculously harsh particularly in contrast to lighter punishments given for racial incidents at the time.

Examples given (fines in brackets):

  • Porto fans at Mario Balotelli (£16,700)
  • Incident in Spain in 2004 (£45,000)
  • Incident in Serbia in 2007 (£16,500)
  • Incident in Croatia in 2008 (£10,000)

Paddypower responded and acted quickly, fully supporting Nicklas Bendtner by offering to pay the fine and highlighting UEFA’s decision to deem this a more serious offence than the previously highlighted racial ones.

This was without a doubt great branding by Paddypower at an important event and superb reactive PR to UEFA’s ill fated punishment.

Verdict: Paddypower Win - by a country mile.


6. PR can sometimes be like ‘rolling the dice’

Finally, a rather unusual piece of PR by Betway owned poker site Gnuf who launched their new website by rolling two giant dice down a slope in Greenland back in October 2007.

The idea being that gamblers could view the dice rolling down the hill and make a bet predicting the outcome, with the results announced a week later.

Each dice was over two meters tall and weighed over half a ton. They were dropped by a helicopter designed for extreme conditions down a slope outside of Nuuk, Greenland. A rather fun and dicey way of launching your new poker site which, if promoted and launched in the right way, would have reaped publicity rewards.

There is not too much coverage or content still available regarding this PR stunt which could have been an awesome multi-media news piece. Of course there is bias, but hosting this content on a newsroom platform would have given it more of an ‘evergreen’ status as content goes.

Verdict: Gnuf (Betway) Win - but a lack of a ‘long tail’ effect regarding the content on this campaign

There are so many more ‘PR Stunts’ that could be highlighted. Later this year we’ll follow up with the best in 2015, with close attention on what gambling firms have up their sleeve for events such as the Oscars, general election, football season finale, cricket and rugby world cups, the major horse race meetings etc...

The gambling industry is without a doubt one of the most competitive industries in the UK, striking the balance between promoting the brand and hooking in new punters. Whilst sticking to the ‘gambling responsibly’ rules is challenging, most brands seem to be getting this just about right whilst having a lot of fun along the way…..

Do contact us with your favourite gambling PR stunts!


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