Tuesday 20 March 2018

From sport in North Korea to dark days for Diageo: how marketing goes awry

North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un and Dennis Rodman watching a game
North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un and Dennis Rodman watching a game
Guinness had to defend its Arthur’s Day campaign last year.
Sarah McCabe

Sarah McCabe

MARKETING exercises don't always leave companies smelling like roses, with Paddy Power the latest Irish company to feel the public's wrath for what some might describe as bad taste.

The bookmaker was forced to reassess its role as sponsor of a controversial basketball exhibition game in North Korea after critics, including Amnesty International, condemned the event as tacit approval of the country's human rights abuses.

Paddy Power withdrew its association, blaming "changed circumstances", though a spokesperson said they still had to honour their contractual commitments.

The sponsorship deal concerned a basketball exhibition match played by some of the sport's most famous names, in celebration of dictator Kim Jong-Un's birthday.

The team included former NBA star Dennis Rodman, who has given a series of interviews defending North Korea in recent weeks.

Rodman can be seen in several video clips wearing a Paddy Power-branded baseball cap.

The betting company is far from the first to incite scorn from the public with a marketing gimmick gone awry.

Guinness-maker Diageo took a sour pill last year, forced to defend its annual "Arthur's Day" celebration amid a national and international outcry and allegations that the event perpetuated Ireland's damaging binge-drinking culture. The story made headlines globally. It is not yet clear whether Diageo will stage the event again.

In another Guinness-related blunder, Nike came under fire in 2012 after releasing a sports shoe called the SB "Black and Tan" around St Patrick's Day, in honour of the famous drink.

Its marketing team had obviously not read up on their Irish history, and were unaware of the "Black and Tans" nickname assigned to the paramilitary unit sent to suppress Irish revolutionaries in the 1920s. Nike was forced to apologise.

Marketers need to be more careful than ever when it comes to toeing the line between ground-breaking and offensive brand strategies, according to managing director of Dublin PR agency Pembroke Communications Michael O'Keeffe.

"It isn't often Paddy Power admits it's gotten too hot in the kitchen, but its latest shock campaign sponsoring Dennis Rodman's North Korean adventure went even too far for the brand which has built its marketing reputation by living on the edge," he said.

"In today's fluid media environment, a crisis can explode within minutes and brands need to be more careful than ever."

He advises marketers follow some simple rules to avoid risking accusations of bad taste. "Plan your spontaneity. In the same way you should never tweet when you are drunk, mistakes happen when you make spur-of-the-moment and impulsive marketing decisions."


Clever marketers and PR people, he said, plan spontaneity. "The Oreo's Superbowl 'You can still dunk in the dark' is a brilliant example. When the power went out in the Superdome during the showdown between the San Francisco 49ers and the Baltimore Ravens, Oreo seized on the opportunity and tweeted this during the half-hour hiatus. However, while it was clever, it was also prepared for -- they had already strategised how to take advantage if this kind of thing occurred."

Brands, he said, should also have their plan checked externally. "Take advice from those one step removed before embarking on a bold or wacky idea. Trusted external advisers can provide independent and cold counsel, which may stop you in your tracks, and checks and balances cut down on embarrassing errors."

Irish Independent

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