A photograph of Richard Harris from Paddy Power giving his presentation at Shift, in front of a large projector screen and a podium emblazoned with the Shift red star logo.

Paddy Power is a brand well-known for its controversial sense of humour, and ad campaigns that are unafraid to push the boundaries of what’s considered acceptable.

Richard Harris, Head of Online Marketing for Paddy Power, took to the stage at Shift London this week to talk about how this approach pays off for the brand.

Paddy Power has built its brand presence around content that is timely, brazen, unapologetic and funny. This approach has won them legions of fans who follow and engage with their content across a range of channels. But their strategy isn’t just about fun and games, as Richard Harris revealed in his presentation at Shift London this week.

Behind the humour is a very calculated, data and metrics-driven approach to business, and a very clever marketing strategy which delivers concrete returns for Paddy Power. Harris explained how brand culture, content strategy, planning and flexibility come together to give Paddy Power a competitive edge in the world of sports betting.

The Paddy Power approach to brand culture

For Paddy Power, brand is something that transcends the whole organisation. “It doesn’t just sit in one corner of the office with a bunch of guys doing funny stuff,” said Harris. The company’s culture is a competitive one, and personality helps.

Everything that Paddy Power does reflects its controversial ethos – not just its marketing. In 2012, the horsemeat scandal formed the backdrop to the company’s annual report: Paddy Power issued a horsemeat ‘recipe book’ along with the report, which opened to music from Black Beauty. Even when interacting with investors, the company stays true to its offbeat brand image.

A presentation slide showing statistics about Paddy Power's core audience. To the far left, a picture of a stick man with a football is captioned with the information "Male (69%), 24% 18-34, 63% work full time". In the middle are some statistics in green and grey boxes: "Over index on digital consumption. Mobile is key - spontaneous stakers. 44% more likely to consume online video. 313% more likely to watch sport through VOD. 88% more likely to watch video on Facebook. 56% more likely to watch video on YouTube." To the far right is a Venn Diagram with grey and green circles overlapping. The caption reads, "YouTube can increase the reach of a TV campaign among sporty socials". In the grey circle is a laptop with a red screen and the text, "YouTube exclusive reach: 27%". In the green circle is a TV with the text, "TV exclusive reach: 15%". In the middle section the text reads, "Crossmedia reach overlap 38%".

The company knows its audience and the platforms they spend the most time on: 69% male, 24% ages 18-34, 88% more likely to view a video on Facebook and (Read more...) more likely to watch a video on YouTube. Channels like social media and YouTube give Paddy Power reach with a young audience that TV can’t provide.

Harris believes that content should come together from teams with different skillsets working together.

The company’s brand, social, editorial and online marketing teams all collaborate to create content for Paddy Power. The content they produce “is about having your finger on the pulse, being sharp-witted and bold, being consistent in tone.”

A presentation slide showing Paddy Power's brand approach to content. The header reads, "And having your finger on the pulse... Sharp witted & bold, consistent in tone". Below is one of Paddy Power's humorous Facebook updates, with a flow chart to the left in green. It reads, "Provide the most relevant, timely, entertaining & provocative content", then "Curate content that is reflective of the mood of sports fans. Talk to and listen to fans" and then, "Iteratively refine content based on engagement levels and fan comments".

The main theme of Paddy Power’s content is of course sport, mostly football. Common topics include current events in sport and making fun of sports personalities, especially football ‘prima donnas’; but the brand also has no qualms about using content from outside the sporting world. In the lead-up to Christmas, for example, Paddy Power released a typically provocative take on the John Lewis Christmas ad which gained over 800 retweets on Twitter.

“Most people find these things funny; there are always a few that don’t,” said Harris. But that isn’t always a problem for Paddy Power, as negative reactions only serve to fuel the conversation around their brand.

Planning and reacting

Much of Paddy Power’s controversial content is carefully planned out, but getting the best response from content also involves a lot of flexibility and opportunism; the brand is always ready to react to what’s happening.

For example, in honour of the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, Paddy Power tweeted a photograph of the Amazon rainforest, where it appeared to have carved a message in support of England by cutting down huge swathes of trees.

Paddy Power’s reputation played completely to its advantage with the stunt, as huge numbers of people were fully willing to believe that Paddy Power had really chopped down miles of Amazon rainforest in the name of advertising. The frenzy of reaction on social media was so intense that Paddy Power decided to wait 48 hours, instead of the planned 24, before revealing the hoax.

When it comes to engaging with negativity around its content, Paddy Power is careful to read the situation before deciding how to react. In the case of ‘Shave the Rainforest’ (as the Amazon stunt became known), Paddy Power knew that the outrage would die down once the hoax was revealed, so it even fanned the flames a little bit, playing into people’s assumptions to encourage the conversation, before coming clean. In the case of genuine upset, though, the brand deals with things more carefully.

Harris highlighted the need for content creators at Paddy Power to be “ready to act” on opportunities that were presented to them – by match outcomes, press disasters, and other twists and turns. Some of Paddy Power’s most popular content has come from the brand providing an entertaining twist on events at just the right moment.

A screenshot from Paddy Power's Facebook page showing three recycling bins labelled "England shirts", "England flags" and "Betting slips". The caption reads, "Ladies and gents, please dispose of your litter appropriately." The post has 17,000 likes and 24,442 shares.

Another Facebook screenshot showing the inside of a house looking as though a wild animal has got loose inside, with white stuffing littered across the floor. The caption reads, "UPDATE from Luis Suarez' house..." It has 11,000 likes.

Why it works

In a hugely competitive marketplace, each brand has to do something different in order to stand out. Paddy Power’s provocative content allows it to stand out amongst its competitors.

In a previous post for ClickZ, Tereza Litsa compared Paddy Power’s success on Twitter with that of its competitor Ladbrokes. While Ladbrokes appears to tick all the right boxes on social media, its content is less creative and remarkable, and ultimately less successful as a result.

Paddy Power’s controversial marketing, while it might turn some away from the brand, has successfully got people engaging across all channels, and even offline. As the ‘Shave the Rainforest’ example proves, even negativity can still be extremely valuable promotion.

To illustrate this point, Harris highlighted the brand’s marketing budget, which as a percentage of its online net revenue is less than its competitors. Harris attributes this efficiency to the value of Paddy Power’s brand. “We believe it gives us an edge that our competitors don’t have,” he said.

A picture of a slide from the Paddy Power presentation illustrating fan and follower growth. Two progress bars show Paddy Power's growth on social media: 84% on Facebook and 73% on Twitter, versus competitor sports bet below, who had 70% growth on Facebook and 56% growth on Twitter. Beneath that the text reads, "Sector leading marketing efficiency. Marketing as % of online net revenue". Paddy Power's percentage is shown at 21% while the average for its competitors is 27%. Bullet points to the right of the slide read, "Most fans and followers; leading engagement; fans/followers over twice as valuable as non-fans/followers; leading marketing efficiency."

At heart, Paddy Power is a pragmatic brand. Although big follower numbers are always nice, it knows that the fans and followers who are actually customers are much more valuable to the brand than those who aren’t. “It’s not just people having a laugh,” said Harris. “It’s a very metric and data-driven game.”

Paddy Power knows that there will always be people who just like to consume content, and may follow every update without ever placing a bet. It has strategies in place to try and persuade them to become customers, but knows that it isn’t possible to convert 100% of your fans and followers.

The brand’s content creators have license to “roam around”, push the boat out and be creative without a lot of oversight, because what they do has been proven to work. “As long as the CEO doesn’t end up in jail,” Harris joked, “we’re good.”

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