ASAI raps Paddy Power for "offensive, anti-English" ad

26 November 2019

The Advertising Standards Authority for Ireland (ASAI) has upheld complaints that argued a press and social media advertisement from Paddy Power was, “racist, offensive... and both highly insensitive and bigoted towards English people.”

The ad was part of an campaign run by the Flutter Entertainment-owned brand around the 2019 Six Nations rugby tournament. It appeared in the Irish Times and in the sports section of the Irish Star and the Irish Sun on 2 February 2019, and on Paddy Power's Facebook and Twitter pages over the weekend of 1-3 February 2019.

“Dear England,” the text of the advertisement read. “Sorry for the last two years of pain, suffering and humiliation. Another 798 and we’ll be even.”

Paddy Power said the ad was intended to reference both “the poor performance of the English rugby team against the Irish rugby team over the previous two years,” as well as “publicly debated English misfortunes since the Brexit referendum,” in addition to the history of English rule in Ireland.

The ASAI received a total of six complaints about the ad.

“Complainants considered the advertisement to be racist, offensive, anti-English in sentiment, stirring up anti-English feelings, and both highly insensitive and bigoted towards English people,” the ASAI said. “Complaints included that the content was confusing, inciting to violence, inflammatory, harmful and hostile and bordering on incitement to hatred of all things English.”

The watchdog added that complainants believed the timing of the advertisement politically, amid questions over the UK’s departure from the European Union and the potential of a hard border being reintroduced on the island of Ireland, made it particularly inappropriate.

In reponse to the complaints, Paddy Power argued that the ads were, “edgy, humorous and engaging” were understood to be part of its brand, and that  was never their intention to cause offence.

The operator added that it expressed regret for any offence caused to the complainants, but that it did not believe this offense was a rational response to the ad. The ad had been “generally well-received”, it added.

Paddy Power said the context of the ad, referencing a sporting rivalry, made it clear that it was not subjecting people to ridicule or exploiting them on grounds of race. It added that, “light hearted humorous references of historical relations” were commonplace in international sporting rivalries.

The Flutter-owned operator cited a previous Paddy Power advertisement that ran in the UK — featuring Scottish football fans singing about betting against England — as evidence that the complaint should not be upheld.

The ad featuring Scottish football fans was the 7th-most complained about ad in the UK during 2016, but the UK Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) did not uphold any complaints against it.

Paddy Power closed its response by arguing that the advertisement was “extremely popular” and did not create backlash online.

The ASAI’s Complaints Committee, however, opted to uphold the complaints. While noting that the ad was intended as a satirical joke as part of a sporting rivalry, the committee determined that, “references to pain, suffering and humiliation with ‘we’ll be even’ was likely to cause offence”.

“[The committee] considered that the content was neither prepared with a sense of responsibility to consumers and to society nor responsive to the diversity in Irish society,” the ASAI said.

However, as the ad was part of a campaign that ran only during the Six Nations, no further action was required against the advertisement.

Instead, the Complaints Committee issued a reminder to all advertisers to exercise care when referencing historical relations between countries.

Paddy Power has come into conflict with authorities over its advertising on many occasions in the past.

In May, the ASA upheld a complaint arguing an ad featuring Rhodri Giggs, the brother of former Manchester United footballer Ryan Giggs, glamorised gambling and suggested it was a way of achieving a good standard of living.

In July, the operator announced a shirt sponsorship deal with Huddersfield Town Football Club. A kit purporting to be Huddersfield's first team strip for the 2019-20 season, featuring the Paddy Power brand as a sash across its front was then unveiled, and the team wore the kit for a friendly match against Rochdale AFC.

This was later revealed to be a hoax to promote Paddy power’s Save Our Shirt campaign against betting sponsorship in football, with the club’s actual shirt for the season featuring no logo on the front of its shirt. However, the Football Association fined Huddersfield £50,000 for wearing kits that broke sponsorship regulations in the match against Rochdale.