27 Sep 2013

Finding marketing partners for your politics

Laced Boot

As someone who both works in marketing and really loves football I’ve been following the Paddy Power/Stonewall “Rainbow Laces” campaign story with interest.

For those of you might who have missed it, the LGBT charity Stonewall partnered up with Online bookmaker Paddy Power to send rainbow laces to all 94 professional clubs in England and the 42 in Scotland. They asked players to wear the laces last weekend (21st/22nd Sept) in support of the “Right Behind Gay Footballers” campaign.

On the face of it, this is a good thing. Homophobia is a big issue in sport, particularly in football, and definitely one that needs to be addressed.  The campaign has been covered by every national newspaper in the build-up and again following the weekend, despite the limited support it actually got. However, I wonder how Stonewall are really feeling about the result.

Paddy Power is a renowned gambling provider and part of this renown comes from their very clever marketing strategy. They generally spend less than their competitors on controversial (and often very amusing) marketing stunts that draw lots and lots of additional coverage through PR. In this respect the “Right Behind Gay Footballers” campaign has been a roaring success. However, I think it may have been less successful for Stonewall than for Paddy Power. Although they have gained valuable column inches for the issue it hasn’t always been in the most positive light.

Part of the issue was that the whole campaign was conceived and executed without any consultation and many clubs and players felt a little aggrieved at the way they were hijacked. The other crucial aspect is that almost every (if not every) club has its own official betting partner. Supporting a campaign backed by a competitor would require them having some fairly frank and difficult discussions with their own betting partner. Manchester Utd, Spurs, Norwich, Sunderland and Southampton all confirmed they would not be supporting the campaign citing the lack of time for those discussions to take place. Some clubs left it up to individual players to participate and only one club, Everton, openly supported it which might (some of you will be ahead of me on this) be partly  because their gambling partner is Paddy Power.

One of the other charities in this space, Football v Homophobia, were highly critical of the campaign as they didn’t feel that the laddish humour of the campaign slogan was particularly helpful. If anything, they claimed, it helped reinforce stereotypes (something which I have to say I agree with).

I can’t help but feel that Stonewall have been a little naïve in all of this especially as it came to light that the campaign was in fact instigated by Paddy Power rather than supported by them. Paddy Power do nothing unless it benefits them and given that there modus operandi is to drive coverage through controversy then Stonewall surely should have considered the issues which would inevitably come up.

At the end of the day the topic has received a lot of coverage and I hope that will prove to be a good thing in the long run. However, I think it has done a lot more for Paddy Power than it has addressed the issue of Homophobia in football. It is a valuable lesson in the importance of choosing your partners wisely and understanding not just what you want to achieve, but what is in it for them and does that fit with your own goals.

Next week I promise not to write about football.