The press advertisement stated the following:
SORRY FOR THE LAST TWO YEARS OF PAIN, SUFFERING AND HUMILIATION.
ANOTHER 798 AND WE’LL BE EVEN.
18+ Need help? Call the Dunlewey Counselling Advice Centre: 1800 936 725”
The ASAI received six complaints in relation to this advertisement.
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. Complaints included that the content was confusing, inciting to violence, inflammatory, harmful and hostile and bordering on incitement to hatred of all things English.
Complainants also considered the advertisement to be unhelpful in context of Brexit, and inappropriate in the current time of fear of a hard border being re-introduced.
The advertisers said they were mindful of their obligations under the Code of Standards for Advertising and Marketing Communications in Ireland (the "Code") and similarly under the UK Code of Non-Broadcast Advertising and Direct and Promotional Advertising (the "CAP Code"). They said that the advertisement in question promoted the Paddy Power brand and that there was no underlying promotion. They said the advertisement 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.
The advertisers said they sought to promote advertising campaigns that were edgy, humorous and engaging and believed it can be said that the public in Ireland and the UK recognised that their marketing campaigns contained a humorous and mischievous element, to the extent that their mischief was rooted in popular culture and news events. They said that it was never their intention to cause offence with the advertisement and expressed their regrets for any offence caused to the complainants in this instance. They said, however, they did not believe that offence was a rational response to the advertisement.
The advertisers said that the advertisement was created as a satirical joke in the lead-up to the Ireland versus England Six Nations rugby game in Dublin on Saturday 2 February 2019. They said that this was the first Irish game of the Six Nations, held on the opening weekend of the competition. They said the advertisement referenced the friendly sporting rivalry between the countries and the poor performance of the English rugby team against the Irish rugby team over the previous two years, and contained a double-entendre, intended as a humorous reference to publicly debated English misfortunes since the Brexit referendum two years ago.
The advertisers said that the advertisement ran as part of a Paddy Power branded Six Nations campaign which included three billboards (‘Try putting a tariff on this Irish beef’; ‘There's no stopping these backstops’; and ‘Welcome to the biggest English-speaking City in Europe’) and a ‘Passport Office’ activation in Dublin city over the weekend of 1-3 February 2019. They said the Campaign was intended to ignite Brexit fun and friendly rivalry between the fans of the Irish and English teams. They said the social media post they made in respect of the Campaign was extremely popular and received over 4,800 likes and 918 shares on Facebook and 2,400 likes and 604 shares on Twitter. They said that the advertisement itself and the Campaign received widespread positive traction across social media.
The advertisers said that England ultimately beat Ireland well in the game. They said that at that stage, the Campaign and their response to the match result received even more positive traction and that their social media post asking for help in removing the billboards received 1400 likes and 194 shares. They said they continued with similar, self-deprecating and light-hearted banter in the immediate aftermath of the match on their social media channels.
The advertisers said they believed the advertisement and the Campaign were generally well-received and understood as light-hearted humorous reflections in relation to Brexit and friendly sporting rivalry between the English and Irish teams. They said that the implied reference in the advertisement in relation to 800 years of English rule in Ireland was not intended as a hostile or inflammatory reference. They said the reference to '800 years' of English rule was a commonly used saying / reference in Ireland, England and worldwide, to the history of English rule of Ireland. They said that a basic google search using the terms '800 years Ireland' or '800 years of repression' or '800 years English rule' substantiates this and makes clear the notoriety of the reference to '800 years' as being a reference to 800 years of English rule in Ireland.
The advertisers said the advertisement did not incite racial hatred and refuted this suggestion. They said that the tongue-in-cheek language used in the advertisement and the context in the background of its appearance (i.e. Six Nations sporting rivalry and Brexit) made clear that they were not subjecting people to ridicule or exploiting them on the grounds of race. They said that light hearted humorous references of historical relations and matters of public debate between competing countries was commonplace in sports and that this was something they regularly do, in a light-hearted way.
They referred to a press coverage of a number of previous campaigns, including advertising related to Euro 2016 which featured Scottish people singing about the fact that they did not mind that they had failed to qualify for the UEFA Euro 2016 football tournament, as they could still bet on England to lose it. The advertisers said that despite it being the 7th most complained about ad in the UK in 2016, the Advertising Standards Authority UK had not found the advertisement in breach, stating that while “some viewers might have found the sentiment of the ad to be unkind, but as a whole it would generally be understood to be a light-hearted and humorous reflection of the friendly sporting rivalry between England and Scotland”.
The advertisers said the advertisement was socially responsible, it contained a responsible gambling message and an '18+' symbol and complied with Section 10 of the Code (Gambling).
The advertisers said the Campaign and the Advertisement itself were extremely popular with both British and Irish citizens and that an immense level of goodwill was shown to their brand as a result. They said they did not receive backlash on social media from activist groups and had no requests from the press for official comment. They said that Paddy Power's core markets were the UK and Ireland and that this was where most of their employees were located. They said that it would not make sense for them to intentionally inflame relations in their core markets.
The advertisers said they had an internal steering group within their brand marketing team who supervise their branded campaigns and that, given the importance of the Six Nations and the Campaign to their brand, they ensured that their internal steering group, made up of Irish and English employees closely monitored public reaction to the advertisement and the Campaign. They said the Campaign was a huge success for them from a marketing perspective.
The Complaints Committee considered the detail of the complaint and the advertisers’ response.
The Committee noted that that the advertisement ran as part of a Paddy Power’s branded Six Nations campaign and that it was created as a satirical joke in the lead-up to the Ireland versus England Six Nations rugby game in Dublin.
The Committee accepted that friendly sporting rivalry between teams prevailed, whether at provincial, national or international level. The Committee also considered that reference to ‘pain, suffering and humiliation’ may have an appropriate place in rugby as a contact sport and given the performance history between teams. However, noting the history between the two countries, the Committee considered that references to pain, suffering and humiliation with ‘we’ll be even’ was likely to cause offence.
They 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 and was in breach of Code sections 3.3, 3.16 and 3.17.
As the advertisement was time bound, no further action required in this case. The Committee reminded advertisers to exercise care when referencing historical relations between countries.