Paddy Power revealed that its sash across the Huddersfield Town kit was a prank. Jaywing's Philip Slade asks whether the prank had the intended effect. 

For years, football shirt sponsorship has been big business. That was what made one betting company’s stunt so surprising.

Huddersfield Town FC unveiled its new kit earlier this month, which featured a ludicrously oversized Paddy Power logo banded across the shirt. There was uproar among the football community, with fans taking to social media platforms to express their anger.

After the initial outburst, Paddy Power revealed all was not what it seemed. Huddersfield’s kit design was in fact a stunt to promote “unsponsoring” shirts in the football sphere, a pretty bold move for a brand in a category facing growing criticism of its prominent shirt sponsorship. They then followed up with a video-led “Save Our Shirt” campaign, leading the charge against football shirts covered in logos.

A trick older than it seems

Sure, Paddy Power did something shocking – and managed to follow it up with a heartfelt “Save Our Shirts” follow-on campaign, which drove a massive amount of publicity and allowed them to deploy key messages that resonate with a football supporting audience.

But this type of activity isn’t exactly new.

Paddy Power has been at this game since 1988 – and in terms of stunt advertising, you could go back to 1870 and the American showman, PT Barnum, who was notorious for countless pranks, such as walking elephants unannounced through mid-Western towns to drum up business for his circus.

To prank or not to prank?

Superficially, staging a prank has appeal. It can be a fast, cost-effective way to get a brand talked about. But just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

It’s a mantra true of so much in life, but when it comes to stunts in advertising, it’s often ignored. There have been great pranks that have gained attention and driven brand value, but – and it’s a massive “but” – for every great one, there are countless tone deaf, unfunny acts of desperation.

One recent example was NatWest’s Mr Banker campaign in May, which saw the bank apologise for using sexist imagery and language in its brand assets, which used a tone perceived as “mansplaining”.

The importance of trust – with agencies and the public

From the brand owner to the public – no one wants to be taken for a mug. Illusion and deception have been part of human society forever, but brands are built on increasingly fragile consumer trust.

Knowing the true extent of the audience’s relationship with a brand is crucial, so that you know how far you can push it. The relationship between an in-house team and an agency is an important part of

this – because understanding levels of consumer trust requires a lot of collaboration and sharing of expertise.

And that isn’t the only reason the in-house/agency relationship is important. It’s rare – and difficult – to plan superficially “reactive” PR stunts in advance. Normally, the opportunity is very much “in the moment”, which means standard sign-off processes must be accelerated.

That’s normally impossible – unless brand and agency already trust each other and know each other’s boundaries.

In this case, the stunt was clearly planned well in advance – and the level of risk it involved clearly required a lot of trust between the in-house team and the consultancy. Not only is it a case of a brand trusting the agency, but there also needs to be a genuine belief in the consultancy and its knowledge of the audience.

Investing the time

It should go without saying that unless you invest in time and effort to nurture creativity all will be lost. Make no mistake: what appears to be a spur of the moment stunt is the product of extremely talented people, working very long hours, sweating the detail to get it right. Paddy Power undoubtedly invested a huge amount of planning into the stunt with the joint intention of being risky, but precise at the same time.

Was it worth it?

So, is the ‘Save Our Shirt’ campaign with Huddersfield Town any good? For the football teams it’s a win, as they bag loads more pre-season publicity than their budgets could have hoped for.

Clearly, the notion of “unsponsoring” by a gambling brand could just be the real deal. For Paddy Power, the stunt has allowed them to be an outspoken brand in a category facing growing criticism because of prominent shirt sponsorships.

It was hugely successful for Paddy Power on several levels, promoting their CSR initiative, reinforcing their brand as one that genuinely cares for sport and setting themselves up to capitalise from the campaign in the future. While the campaign was risky, it certainly paid off.