Paddy Power 2018 Russia World Cup Polar Bear Painting Stunt Stirs Up Outrage, UK Bookmaker Scrambles to Explain

Posted on: June 8, 2018, 11:30h. 

Last updated on: June 8, 2018, 10:48h.

When Paddy Power — the always-controversial UK bookmaker — wanted to use the 2018 Russia World Cup as a platform to draw attention to the plight of the region’s polar bears, it came up with a crazy idea: to paint the English team’s St. George’s cross on, well, an actual bear.

Paddy Power Polar Bear St George's cross
Ya gotta have a gimmick, but did Paddy Power go too far with this controversial video campaign to draw attention to Russia’s dwindling polar bear population? (Image: Paddy Power)

Or so it seemed, anyway.

Naturally, it also wanted to drum up some business for itself along with. In the process, Paddy has mostly drummed up a world of wrath from a global social media audience, who have been less than shy in expressing their feelings on the company’s tactics.

But it turns out no animals were actually harmed in the making of another questionable Paddy stunt. In a video (see below) released shortly after the Twittersphere went crazy over the polar-painting scheme, the company insists that the England team cross was really just done the old-fashioned way: via photoshopping.

Did we mention that the polar bear also had a PP logo added in the process?

Paddy Power has become infamous by now for its controversy-seeking guerrilla marketing. PP also took out a full-page ad in a British newspaper, showing a lone bear wandering through the ice with the slogan “England Till I Dye,” presumably a play on words to draw attention to the dwindling population of bears due to global warming.

“We’ve graffitied a precious Russian bear which is no match for our three lions,” explained the bookmaker: a reference to the three-lions emblem that adorns the jerseys of England’s soccer players.

B(e)aring the Truth

It turned out the public had taken the bait, giving Paddy the massive publicity that always follows the bookmaker’s marketing controversies. On Thursday, Paddy Power said it had all been a hoax and that no endangered animals had actually been graffitied at all during the making of the advertisement. Instead, it had all been done with convincing CGI.

Paddy Power explained the campaign and its “humor” were intended to offend, hoping to get people talking about endangered Russian polar bears, while making its brand part of World Cup story all at once. PP also revealed that the campaign was organized in collaboration with wildlife charity Polar Bears International, which got a five-figure donation out of the alliance.

Sustainable Marketing

The hoax has echoes of the company’s last World Cup stunt, at Brazil 2014, when it was able to convince a large number of people that it had demonstrated its support of England’s soccer team by inflicting ecological damage on Brazil’s rainforests.

The “Shave the Rainforest” campaign showed an aerial photograph of a patch of rainforest with the words “C’mon England, PP” carved into it in felled trees.

Paddy Power initially claimed it had resorted to drastic action to raise awareness of the plight of the South American rainforests. Then it explained it was a photoshop job and the campaign had been a collaboration with Greenpeace.

Ken Robertson, “ambush marketing” expert and formerly Paddy Power’s “Head of Mischief,” recently recalled the incident to advertising industry website The Drum, and offered some useful insight into the company’s tactics.

We saw the opportunity to shine a light on this issue by orchestrating what you would call a masterclass in fake news,” he said. “We led people to believe that we had chopped down a massive swathe of the rainforest. We leaked the photographs and stepped away from it and let the whole thing percolate.

“We became part of the World Cup narrative by perpetrating this hoax and then revealing it was actually a collaboration with Greenpeace. All of a sudden, you go from sinner to saint, you elevate the brand into the narrative,” he added.