Save Our Shirts

23 July 2019 | Lucy Bishop
Paddy Power, the ‘mischief making’ marketing geniuses behind such controversial stunts as shaving the rainforest to support England at the World Cup and creating a wax figure of Oprah Winfrey to show its support for her running for the 2020 presidency, has been at it again.

As you’re no doubt aware, the football season kicks off in a few weeks, with the usual round of new commercial sponsorship deals coinciding with its commencement.

Although not, perhaps, so much this year.

This season, Paddy Power has decided to make the whole football community rethink how it views shirt sponsorship, and whether it’s really necessary for kits to be plastered with the logos of multi-million pound businesses that more than likely have very little to do with the club.

In true Paddy Power style, this ‘rethink’ was encouraged with a somewhat unexpected twist.

Last Wednesday, Huddersfield Town FC announced its new kit for the upcoming season on social media, with its main shirt sponsor being none other than Paddy Power.

So far, so commercially predictable you might think, with the kit seemingly remaining true to the club by keeping its traditional blue and white vertical stripes.

However, the bookmaker then caused its usual dose of controversy by emblazoning Huddersfield’s kits with huge Paddy Power logos. In a ‘world’s first’ the green Paddy Power logo was festooned as a diagonal stripe from the hip to the shoulder of the shirt in a form of garish sash. With football fans sticklers for tradition, this, predictably, caused what seemed like the whole football community to rise up in arms, lamenting the ‘death of football’ and the club ‘selling its soul’.

The design - of the unnecessarily large Paddy Power logo - was also replicated on the team’s away kit, however, with another twist of the knife, the away kit also ‘paid homage’ to Huddersfield’s 110-year history, with 110 Paddy Power logos plastered over it.

To make the new kits even more convincing, not only did Huddersfield share images of it on social media - something that someone with even a rudimentary knowledge of Photoshop could whip together in short order - the team also played a friendly match wearing the Paddy Power embossed kits to fully convince football fans that the huge logos on the kits were, indeed, legitimate.

This saw the Mail Online, amongst others, tear into both Paddy Power and the club.

However, in time-honoured Paddy Power fashion, it turned out that the whole thing was little more than a huge PR stunt.

Now, this was something we predicted when we posted about it on social media (after all, there are rules in place to limit the size of shirt sponsorships). But, there was a sublime twist to this that we didn’t see coming.

Paddy Power released a video explaining how it was not only sponsoring Huddersfield Town FC, but actually ‘unsponsoring’ the club too. In a campaign called ‘Save Our Shirt’ a video stated that ‘Paddy Power knows that the very best way to sponsor a team is by unsponsoring them.’

The real football shirts for Huddersfield Town was then released demonstrating that the Paddy Power logo is nowhere to be seen, simply leaving a blank space on the front of the shirt where the title sponsor would usually be.

The ‘Save Our Shirt’ campaign then encouraged other clubs and brands to follow suit.

The idea runs with the theme that Paddy Power is ‘unsponsoring’ clubs to move towards unbranded football kits and to change the perception of football kits as ‘no longer walking billboards’ for multi-million pound businesses but to strip them of their sponsorships and to return them to those who care most about the clubs – the fans.

Now, obviously, if every brand opted to ‘unsponsor’ a club it would soon become run of the mill and fans wouldn’t know which brand was ‘unsponsoring’ which club. Paddy Power, by seizing on this initiative has played an absolute blinder.

Of course, the Save our Shirt campaign won’t come to anything…as what brand would follow suit? Paddy Power has stolen all the thunder, and it can now take the moral high ground, taking potshots at rival brands that have the seeming indecency to sponsor a football shirt.

A delicious hand grenade to rock the status quo, and it’s one that Paddy Power deserves great credit for…from a marketing point of view at least.

It’s also a very risky move. Baiting the press certainly isn’t a tactic we’d advocate every brand engaging with. Following an initial article that tore into Paddy Power, the Mail Online’s Ian Herbert was left a little red faced when the hoax came to light (conveniently only a couple of hours after his article was published – the green light Paddy Power was no doubt looking for). This didn’t stop him, however, and Herbert opted to excoriate the brand a second time, highlighting its lack of ethics in previous marketing endeavours.

For most businesses, this would be a nervous time to say the least. A national newspaper pummelling the brand’s values (or lack thereof) would have most engaging in flustered crisis comms.

Paddy Power, however, isn’t like other brands. With a predominantly laddish target market, it embraces controversy. So, it’s no doubt pats on the back all round at HQ and a toast to its controversial success.

Indeed, Paddy Power’s campaign has continued in recent days, with Motherwell FC and Newport County emerging as the latest kits to play in unsponsored kits over the forthcoming season.

From a creative marketing perspective this really was an inspired idea and one we can only applaud. So, yet again, tip of the cap, Paddy Power. You rascally beggars.