Embracing Marketing Mistakes

When Marketing Stunts Backfire: Lessons from Paddy Power’s Oscar Pistorius Ad Fail

June 25, 2024 Prohibition PR
When Marketing Stunts Backfire: Lessons from Paddy Power’s Oscar Pistorius Ad Fail
Embracing Marketing Mistakes
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Embracing Marketing Mistakes
When Marketing Stunts Backfire: Lessons from Paddy Power’s Oscar Pistorius Ad Fail
Jun 25, 2024
Prohibition PR

Get ready for a masterclass in disruptive marketing with our special guest, Ken Robertson, the former Head of Mischief at Paddy Power and current CEO of the Tenth Man. We uncover how Ken's strategies transformed Paddy Power into an entertainment powerhouse, from their mischievous "black ops" division to their stunts that grabbed global attention, including one campaign that attracted scrutiny from the UN. Ken shares behind-the-scenes tales of how Paddy Power's irreverent approach helped them stand out in a crowded market.

Ever wondered how a pair of underpants could disrupt brands like McDonald's and Adidas? In our conversation, Ken reveals the genius behind Paddy Power's viral ambush marketing campaign during a European football tournament. By partnering with Danish striker Nicholas Bendtner, they turned a cheeky goal celebration into a global sensation. This move not only garnered massive attention but also forced UEFA to tighten its rules on guerrilla marketing. 

We also explore how Paddy Power cleverly infiltrated major events, like cheekily sponsoring an event in London, France, during the 2012 London Olympics. From political betting ventures to the autonomy that fuelled creative freedom, Ken provides rich insights into the brand's playbook. We even touch on how other brands like BrewDog and Ryanair have successfully adopted similar disruptive tactics. This episode is a treasure trove of lessons for anyone looking to revolutionise their marketing game with a fearless and innovative approach.

Would you like to know if your social media and content strategy is perfect for this year? Book a free 15-minute brand discovery call here with Chris, and we will help you grow your brand today. And if you like the show, please leave us a review, or even just a thumbs up. It is very much appreciated - we want your feedback.

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Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Get ready for a masterclass in disruptive marketing with our special guest, Ken Robertson, the former Head of Mischief at Paddy Power and current CEO of the Tenth Man. We uncover how Ken's strategies transformed Paddy Power into an entertainment powerhouse, from their mischievous "black ops" division to their stunts that grabbed global attention, including one campaign that attracted scrutiny from the UN. Ken shares behind-the-scenes tales of how Paddy Power's irreverent approach helped them stand out in a crowded market.

Ever wondered how a pair of underpants could disrupt brands like McDonald's and Adidas? In our conversation, Ken reveals the genius behind Paddy Power's viral ambush marketing campaign during a European football tournament. By partnering with Danish striker Nicholas Bendtner, they turned a cheeky goal celebration into a global sensation. This move not only garnered massive attention but also forced UEFA to tighten its rules on guerrilla marketing. 

We also explore how Paddy Power cleverly infiltrated major events, like cheekily sponsoring an event in London, France, during the 2012 London Olympics. From political betting ventures to the autonomy that fuelled creative freedom, Ken provides rich insights into the brand's playbook. We even touch on how other brands like BrewDog and Ryanair have successfully adopted similar disruptive tactics. This episode is a treasure trove of lessons for anyone looking to revolutionise their marketing game with a fearless and innovative approach.

Would you like to know if your social media and content strategy is perfect for this year? Book a free 15-minute brand discovery call here with Chris, and we will help you grow your brand today. And if you like the show, please leave us a review, or even just a thumbs up. It is very much appreciated - we want your feedback.

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Ken Robbertson:

Suddenly there was a big spotlight on Paddy Power supporting this regime in which multiple people have been killed in the government. Irish bookmaker Paddy Power. Big questions were asked. The UN got involved. We came under massive pressure.

Will Ockenden:

Is there a stage in a campaign like that when you think this has got out of control and you know, I mean, were you worried? You know the UN getting involved, are you thinking we have gone too far now?

Ken Robbertson:

That was one of the few that I literally lost a lot of sleep over.

Chris Norton:

Welcome to Embracing Marketing Mistakes, the only podcast for senior marketing professionals that celebrates the biggest mistakes fails, helping you learn practical lessons from other people's misfortune, All so you can double your return on investment and achieve record revenue.

Chris Norton:

In this week's episode, Will and I are joined by the brilliant Ken Robertson, who's the founder and CEO at the Tenth man. Former Paddy Power advertising director and head of mischief, Ken is regarded as the architect of the famously irreverent Paddy Power brand, which makes him perfect for the show. He spent a large part of the last two decades causing mayhem for the mischievous bookmaker, from hijacking some of the world's biggest sporting and cultural events to infiltrating North Korea with Dennis Rodman. So, taking his unique insight into disruptive brand building, Ken created the Tenth man as an independent creative agency with a single-minded focus of creating original and disruptive communications. I know you're going to enjoy this episode because Ken shares some really interesting marketing fails and some brilliant creativity hacks which will help make you more effective. So, as always, sit back, relax and let's hear how you can improve your creative marketing without having to spend hours and hours learning to do it without having to spend hours and hours learning to do it.

Chris Norton:

Hi everybody, welcome back to Embracing Marketing Mistakes. This week in the studio we've got the wonderful Ken Robertson, who is the CEO at the Tenth man. But more importantly for me, and the most interesting bit about why we've got you on the show, ken, is because you used to be which I just purely for the job title in itself the head of mischief at Paddy Power. What a brief that is, by the way. Welcome to the show.

Will Ockenden:

So, ken, I think the big question we've all got is what is a head of mischief? I mean, that's got to be the best job title I've ever heard. So what did that actually involve then at Paddy Power?

Ken Robbertson:

Yeah, it was actually the best job in the world, believe me. And I guess it was a title that was quite unique to Paddy Power and the Paddy Power brand. And maybe to give you some context, so I started in Paddy Power as their first ever marketing hire back in 1999. The business at the time was essentially a high street retail betting business, around 50 betting shops dotted around Ireland. The guys in Paddy Power before me, to be fair to them, they saw this massive opportunity to kind of make that transition from essentially being an exclusive retail betting operation to harnessing the power of this new thing called the Internet and creating the first ever online kind of betting offering, which, which Paddy Power was, was the first ever betting brand to make that transition from high street to to online. And so the I started in 99.

Ken Robbertson:

The founders of the business, one in particular guy called Stuart Kenny, was a very unique character. He was inherently quite a mischievous character, so a lot of him was in the brand and I guess that was essentially the kind of blueprint for what the Paddy Power brand became known as. And so over the course of a couple of years, when it became clear that online betting was essentially like a rocket. It was taking off so fast. So we started building out the marketing function of Paddy Power quite quickly and essentially there was kind of a two pronged approach. There was the classic brand marketing team that would do all the kind of expected stuff, you know, all the above-the-line advertising, all the digital performance marketing. But we had this kind of almost like a secret ops division within the marketing department that became known as the mischief team, because our CEO at the time thought it was quite funny just to call it the mischief team instead of the marketing team. And really it was our job just to ensure that the Paddy Power brand remained razor sharp at all times.

Ken Robbertson:

And you know, paddy Power was again a very unique brand. It never really played by the rules of the category it operated in. It wanted to be different. It wanted to be essentially more of an entertainment brand than just another gambling brand, and it was essentially my job to deliver on that. And so that pretty much meant a period of almost unlearning everything I'd learned about marketing up until then and kind of rewriting the playbook in a way. And, like I said, the Mischief team was essentially run as kind of the black ops division of the marketing team with a very simple, single minded, focus and mandate just to make the Paddy Power brand world famous by infiltrating some of the world's biggest events, brand world famous by infiltrating some of the world's biggest events. And so yeah, that's.

Chris Norton:

That's a quick kind of whistle, stop in terms of of where it came from and and you've, paddy power is infamous. It's so well known for the stunt, the controversial stunt as well. There's quite a lot of stunts that you've done that have been uh, close to the bone, which is great for the show because it's all about marketing mistakes. But there's also you've done some phenomenal like stunts that we that make people laugh and are clever, but obviously some that are very, very close to the bone. What are the biggest stunts that stand out to you over the years that you did for paddy power? What were the most effective ones?

Ken Robbertson:

um, it really depends what, what, um, what the metric of success? Um, well, what metric of success you're talking about? But, like 2012 was a real kind of I suppose halcyon time for for Paddy Paris stunts. Um, it started off in March that year. Um, we were one of the few betting brands that didn't actually become an official sponsor of the Cheltenham Race Festival, which happens in March every year, and you know Cheltenham for the betting industry, it's a bit like Christmas week for high street retailers. Right, you have a good Cheltenham, you're kind of set up for the year.

Ken Robbertson:

So, instead of doing what every other betting company did sponsor a race or have signage around the track we decided to install this um, I think it was like a 500 foot paddy power sign on the hills, overlooking the race course. We just did a deal with yeah, we did a deal with with a landowner who had a lot of farmland, kind of overlooking, um, overlooking the race course on on what was called Cleve Hill, which is a beautiful kind of backdrop to the racecourse. So we actually installed that just on the Monday night Cheltenham starts on a Tuesday and under the cover of darkness, we had a team of around 250 construction workers building this. So come first light, there was this giant Paddy Bar sign and you just could not get away from it, no matter what. You did. So and that kind of set the tone for the year that was to follow, and and 2012, similar to this year, was the big european football tournament, and so we got up to tons of stuff, the.

Ken Robbertson:

The first thing we did was, while every other betting company was kind of enlisting a former footballer, former football manager, to be their spokesperson, we decided we were going to get to the bottom of why England always have this horrific kind of track record in major tournaments, usually going out in the final, usually losing a kind of penalty shootout. So we decided we'd collaborate with a pretty smart guy. So we got in touch with Professor Stephen Hawking and we said would you like to be our brand ambassador and would you like to write a kind of mathematical equation in terms of what England's best chance of success is? So we had this extraordinary press conference in Cambridge University with the professor kind of brought out on stage and talking through his voice box, this 20 minute presentation in terms of, you know, england's best chances of success and, if it does come to a penalty shootout, where the ball should go in the net, and it was all supported by this very kind of complex mathematical kind of algorithms and equations. So that was kind of part mathematical kind of algorithms and equations.

Ken Robbertson:

So, um, that was kind of part one of our Euro campaign. Part two was, um, you know, again similar to Cheltenham. We weren't inclined to become an official sponsor of of the European tournament that year for two reasons one, that's not kind of what Paddy Power really does, we don't like official stuff. And two, and it came at a price tag, I think at the time of of 25 million to be an official category sponsor, wow, of a of a uefa event. So instead we, um, we did a side deal with the danish striker at the time, a guy called nicholas bentner oh yeah, the arsenal guy who said he was the best.

Ken Robbertson:

Yeah, yeah, I remember yeah, yeah, lord bentner, quite quite a character. So we did a little kind of back channeling to him and we did a side deal and we said, look, if you score a goal, is there any chance? As part of your celebration, you'd uh, pull your short sound slightly and reveal that you're wearing a pair of paddy power lucky underpants, which were a kind of brand asset for paddy for paddies at the time. So, and somewhat surprisingly, he agreed and we drew up a little kind of deal between us and their first match they were playing Portugal and of course Ronaldo was playing at the time time ball is lobbed into Ronaldo and scores one of the most amazing um headers I've ever seen, and we were like, oh, this is it, we're done, it's not going to happen.

Ken Robbertson:

Second half kicks off.

Ken Robbertson:

Halfway through the second half, ball is kind of punted up the field to um, to Benner, who who finds the back at net, and we're all, oh just incredible, he's going to show the pants.

Ken Robbertson:

He kind of runs back up to the halfway line, doesn't of the net, and we're all, oh just incredible, he's going to show the pants. He kind of runs back up to the halfway line, doesn't show the pants, and we're distraught, don't believe it. Then, 87th minute, again ball punted up to Bendner, header back of the net real kind of poacher's goal and he just reveals he's wearing the Paddy Power lucky underpants, pulls his shorts down, runs up to the halfway line and there's, like global headlines, this is one of the biggest kind of infiltrations of a sporting event of all time, and so that got us a disproportionate amount of brand awareness around this event. And actually we did a study afterwards and we found that we got more brand awareness than the likes of our brand recognition around the event and the likes of McDonald's and Adidas and a few other brands that actually were kind of 25 million category sponsors.

Chris Norton:

Yeah yeah, it's like disruptive, creative uses of advertising. Did you get penalized for that, for doing something? That's because I remember when people the players used to have it on the T-shirts and then they got told they couldn't do that anymore. Did you get penalized for having it on the pants, or was that something they'd not thought of?

Ken Robbertson:

No, we didn't get penalized. The Danish Football Federation got slapped with a 100 grand fine from UEFA. We paid it because it was on us and we made it known that we paid it on behalf of the Danish Football Federation and but what it did lead to and this was very interesting was, post tournament, uefa essentially rewrote their entire code of conduct around essentially Guerrilla marketing and ambush marketing and to do what we did in 2012. Now, like, let's say, if we were to execute something similar at the um at the forthcoming euros in germany, there will be multi, multi-million pound fines against us, because they basically just rewritten the um, the rule book, just to absolutely cancel any chance of this stuff happening again so what's?

Will Ockenden:

um, we'll come on to some of the closer to the bone examples in a minute, because I think that's that's a fascinating conversation. But when it comes to these kind of disruptive stunts that just absolutely cut through is is there a playbook for that? You know what's your process. I mean, it sounds like you. You look at what everyone's doing and do the exact opposite. I feel like you're thinking big constantly. You know who would. Who would think steven hawking would, would, would you know would agree to I mean, how do you approach these massive cut through stunts?

Will Ockenden:

you know what's? Because there'll be a lot of brands listening to this, thinking we, you know, we, yeah, we aspire to that yeah it, it's very, very simple, right, and so you know.

Ken Robbertson:

You look at the events that are going to get the most eyeballs and they're quite obvious. Right, for Paddy Parra was the big racing festivals, ok, the big football tournaments, and you know that same year in 2012, was the London Olympics. I don't know if you can remember back that far, but LOCOG were the organizing committee and they had some very draconian legislation pushed through parliament to prevent anybody infringing on the London Olympics copyright. So there was insane stuff. It was like there was a local chipper called London Games and that got shut down and I have been operating under that name for the last 50 years. So, um, there was incredibly tight um legislation around it, which you know would obviously put off a lot of prans executing around it.

Ken Robbertson:

But you know, we kind of took that as a challenge in terms of what can we do to somehow bolt the paddy power name onto the london olympics. So we came up with the um. Somebody realized there was a small town in southern france, quite close to bordeaux, called london. Um spelt exactly the same way. So we we dispatched the delegation over to London and they met the mirror of London, france.

Chris Norton:

I can see what's coming.

Ken Robbertson:

Yeah, we agreed to sponsor an athletics event in London, france, during the same time period as the London games, which gave us license to run a massive out-of-home campaign around London, england, during the build-up. Saying paddy power is proud sponsor of the biggest athletics event in london in 2012 I love it.

Chris Norton:

That's genius.

Ken Robbertson:

That is genius yeah, we just does a tiny little asterisk down the bottom going london fr, of course, yeah yeah, and Locog got oh God, they were irate, I bet they were.

Ken Robbertson:

We got a stinker of a letter from Sebastian Coe who was the chair of Locog at the time. But look, that was the playbook for Paddy Parris. So sorry to answer your question. The playbook is identify the event craft. The opportunity to is identify the event craft, the opportunity to infiltrate the event. And you know the end game is what is going to get the most eyeballs on paddy power, what, what is going to get the biggest payoff for the brand?

Ken Robbertson:

And you know you're, you're treading a razor blade like, like you referred to earlier of. You know you're really on the cusp of what you can get away with and you are absolutely going to piss off some people. But sometimes that's not a bad thing and the real art of this is knowing who the right cohort to piss off is. And because sometimes they do a lot of the work for you, they give it the oxygen of publicity and controversy. And there are the people picking up the phone to their local radio station lot of the work for you, they give it the the oxygen of publicity and controversy. And they're the people picking up the phone to their local radio station saying they're incensed by this and how they're paddy power and that's exactly what you want. You know, that's kind of almost poking the embers of the fire to be fair.

Chris Norton:

Well, I think I can write the the playbook on paddy power stunts and the mischief. Like, for instance, this year july the 4th is the? Uh is the general election, q? Uh, july the 3rd paddy power removals. Van pulls up outside number 10 down the street with rishi uh off you go rishi or something. On the side of it it's branded with paddy power, it's the same and that's quite interesting. You guys move into political betting as well, don't you? And talk, is that just because there's loads of eyeballs on the elections? Or when Boris got ousted, you weren't involved in Paddy Power, didn't do the. It wasn't the lettuce. That was with Liz Truss as well, was it?

Ken Robbertson:

No, that was so good. I can take absolutely no credit for some of the fantastic stuff that Paddy Power have been up to over the last seven years because I've been out and. But yeah, look, politics and betting on political events actually has always been a very kind of very popular part of the Paddy Power offering. So this year obviously is a very big kind of then year for, for, for, for elections. So there'll be a lot of focus from the paddy power team on, you know, bolting the brand or associating the brand with those political events, because people, people bet and then you would be amazed by how much people bet on on events. So obviously, the UK election, there's an election in Ireland this month, there's the big US election next November. So you know, I would imagine there would be quite a focus by Paddy Power to execute or create campaigns or mischief events around these political events.

Chris Norton:

So Prohibition. We work with quite a few challenger brands, but what I love about paddy power and the stuff the work that you've done is you seem to have been given like a just absolute control over what you want to off. You go, go and do it, because someone must be signing this stuff off, right? I some of the stunts that you've done, I try to imagine saying to a client can we just do, uh, you know, can we do a giant, uh, like you just did there, a massive gorilla stunt outside cheltenham festival? How do you get this stuff signed off? Was it were you, could you just sign it off yourself? Or and did you just have to sit there worrying that you were like with the london games example that you gave there?

Ken Robbertson:

Yeah, no, it wasn't quite as loose as that.

Ken Robbertson:

So I suppose, going back to my original point, so Paddy Power, genuinely a very, very unique brand in terms of the founder of the business, is very much part of the DNA of the brand and that founder, like I said, a guy called Stuart Kenny, was an inherently kind of fun, mischievous, irreverent character, right. So a lot of him continues in the brand to this day. So that kind of, I guess, in a way, set the tone for what the brand became and continues to become over time and it it also set the temperature for the people who came into the business. A lot of the senior stakeholders in the business, without exception, they bought into the fact that Paddy Power was a business that was built on a brand and an incredibly strong brand and an incredibly disruptive brand and an incredibly brave brand. So during my time doing all this crazy stuff whether it was, you know, the London Olympics or flying Dennis Rodman over to North Korea, which I'm happy to talk about at some point too- Definitely going to talk about that next.

Ken Robbertson:

They were all signed off by the CEO, which, while I was there, was an extraordinary chap called Patrick Kennedy and he just really got the brand. He understood the importance of the brand to the wider business and Patrick's kind of he was a very unique character as well. His kind of litmus test was twofold Would any other betting brand do this? And if the answer was yes, we just scrapped it straight away, right, because it wasn't brave enough or wasn't disruptive enough. And the ultimate kind of test was is this going to get me in prison? And if the answer was yes, we weren't allowed to do it. If the answer was no, off you go.

Chris Norton:

So I don't think we're going to think we're going to be using that tactic. Well, is this going to put us in?

Will Ockenden:

prison. I'd love to see the ideas that didn't make it, wouldn't you?

Ken Robbertson:

yeah, stuff you haven't dared do yeah, they're the ones I don't talk about so, um, we'll talk about some of these.

Will Ockenden:

Um, the, the, the stunts that didn't go quite so well, um, in the moment, but I suppose you've, you know, since, since being at paddy power, you've, you've then moved on to have your own agency, the 10th man, which, which we can talk about. What other brands, though, in the market do you look at that are truly disruptive? Um, you know, who do you admire that are doing similar things perhaps to paddy power, doing stunts that just get, amazing, cut through?

Ken Robbertson:

yeah, I, I don't think anybody does it better than paddy power, to be honest, and I'm frequently asked this question. Um, you know, I I think brew dog back in the day kind of very much, you know replicated a lot of the paddy power kind of stuff and wrapped themselves in this kind of challenger brand positioning and have done extraordinary well kind of making it their own. And you know, closer to home, in dublin, I think rhiner has done a good job of. Again, it's quite similar to Paddy Power. That's the biggest kind of gambling company in the world. Ryanair is now the biggest airline in the world but it's done such an incredible job of remaining kind of the challenger brand in the category and when the challenger is in truth the market leader, it's quite difficult to to maintain that kind of cheeky positioning and both strong irish, irish brands as well, which is quite interesting yeah, I don't know if it's something

Chris Norton:

to do with your nationality and you like chat, you know, challenging, with the humor and everything. What do you think?

Ken Robbertson:

I, I, I think there is truth in that. I, I, I think, when you kind of peel back kind of irish culture, it is a culture of storytelling and within storytelling there's a lot of kind of myth telling. So you know, there is definitely something in that.

Chris Norton:

You're, you're quite right okay, so this show is all about fuck ups and marketing fuck ups, and you've you've shared some great stuff there, let's, but you mentioned one a minute ago which we've got to get into, which you, before the show, we've got some notes about you throwing a party for kim jong-un, his 30th birthday party, with paddy power, I mean that's brave.

Will Ockenden:

I just want to hear that's a brave one, isn't it?

Chris Norton:

how that got signed off. I'd love to know, so can you tell us a bit more about that? What happened?

Ken Robbertson:

um that had a very unlikely genesis or beginning. So? Um, this was 2014, I think, and for the first time in 600 years, a pope had retired, pope ratsinger? Um had retired, pope Ratzinger had retired and 10 years earlier, when, you know, john Paul, the Pope at the time, had died.

Ken Robbertson:

We spotted an opportunity in the mischief team to generate a bit of publicity, so we sent a team, including myself, over to St Peter's Square with a betting pitch and we were essentially taking bets on who the next Pope will be, because the process to elect a Pope is quite strange in a way. It's called a conclave and all the cardinals assemble from all over the world into um, into rome, into vatican city. It's a bit like kind of a catholic avengers assemble, in a way. So so they, they all arrive into vatican city and and they're essentially locked into the Sistine Chapel and they're not allowed to come back out until they elect a new Pope. Right Now, this could take hours, this could take days, this could take weeks, but what happens is the entire world's media is gathered around St Peter's Square with nothing to report on until white smoke comes out of the chimney of the Sistine Chapel. So there's a lot of very expensive media talent there literally doing nothing, and they have to, you know, file the reports every hour back to you know. Whether it's CNN or Reuters or Sky News or BBC, they're all there and they've got nothing to say, apart from these two idiot Irish people with a betting board shouting the odds on the next Pope. So we managed to get ourselves kind of an hourly slot on Sky News with the latest market movers and who the money was coming from and which cardinal was. So we did this in 2007.

Ken Robbertson:

Then, when Ratzinger decided to resign, there was another conclave in 2014. So we dispatched the team back over to St Peter's Square. I didn't go this time and I was back in Paddy Power HQ in Dublin. I was watching Sky News because there was a piece about Paddy Power team shouting the odds in St Peter's Square. They were being interviewed on Sky News and the story immediately after that was a story about Dennis Rodman being in Pyongyang with the Harlem Globetrotters playing an exhibition match for Kim Jong-un. God, that's extraordinary.

Ken Robbertson:

And, by complete fluke, it looked like we were going to have our first ever black Pope elected. There was a I think he was um, from ghana, if I'm not mistaken cardinal turks, and he was the favorite in our betting to be elected next pope that particular year. So we had this money back specials, money back specials for paddy power, where a little kind of promotion that we use and if something happened in a particular event that was of note, we would refund all the losing bets. So we said, to celebrate the likelihood of the first ever Black Pope, we'd refund all the losing bets to people who didn't bet on the Black Pope. So we had this headline money back if the pope is black and we were thinking about ways to promote it. So robman, rome, all this type of stuff. There was a map of the world on on the wall and paddy parren I just noticed that literally halfway between ponyang and chicago, which robman was flying back to the following day, was literally Rome, literally halfway couldn't believe it.

Ken Robbertson:

So we got in touch with Robman's agent and very quickly we hatched this plan to dispatch Dennis Robman to Rome, pick him up in a Pope mobile wearing a t-shirt saying money back if the Pope is black and drive him up to St Peter's Square where he would meet up with the Paddy Power marketing team. So we did this in a very unlikely kind of way and this all happened really fast Huge media blitz, tons of publicity for Paddy Power, and the guys ended up kind of celebrating the success with Rodman in Rome that night. You could imagine how that turned out. But along the wayman explained, uh, what he was up to in North Korea and anyway, quite quickly we realized there's a very big idea here. So Robman flew back, we flew over, we met him and his team a couple of weeks later in Chicago and we hatched a plan.

Ken Robbertson:

Apparently Kim Jong-un wasn't a big fan of the harlem globetrotters. He thought it was not authentic basketball. He was a bit disappointed with it. So we came up with this idea jointly with dennis rodman, to actually bring a us team to play a north korean team. It would happen the following january in punyang, which tied in with kim jong-un's 30th birthday, and paddy power would sponsor it. Paddy power would bankroll it.

Ken Robbertson:

Um, and big press conference in new york in september that year. Um, and everything was on course for this to happen. We had put together, or robin had selected, a us team. Everything was on course until december the same year, so the month before the event was supposed to happen, and kim jung-un just went on um, a very unexpected, uh purge of his government.

Ken Robbertson:

Now, usually a purge ends up in people losing their jobs. Unfortunately, in north korea, a purge means people lose their lives, and he essentially killed half his government cabinet. This was reported around the world and suddenly there was a big spotlight on Paddy Power supporting this regime, in which multiple people had been killed in the government, and big questions were asked. The UN got involved. We became under massive pressure to withdraw our sponsorship, which we had to do literally the week before the event was due to happen, but the event still happened. We just took our branding off to jerseys, but the event still went ahead. It was a huge success. The match actually ended up legitimately being a draw, which was quite fitting, and you know, six months later, a couple of American hostages who had been imprisoned in North Korea were released. So, in a very unlikely set of circumstances, I would like to think that Paddy Power in some way set in motion a chain of events that actually led to something quite, quite good and quite positive in terms of prisoner release so the un?

Will Ockenden:

I mean, is there a stage in a campaign like that when you think, shit, this has got out of control and you know? I mean, were you worried? You know the un getting involved. Are you thinking we, we have gone too far now?

Ken Robbertson:

yeah, yeah, yeah, I'll doubt. That was one of the few that I literally lost a lot of sleep over, because you know, we, we were being asked some pretty serious questions. You know, patty power at at that time was was a very big business. It was um, it had ipo, it was listed on the Irish and the UK, so London Stock Exchange we had big institutional investors who had kind of codes of ethics themselves and we were being asked questions by these big institutional investors in terms of what the fuck are you doing in North Korea, guys? This doesn't look good.

Chris Norton:

So, yeah, yeah, yeah, we were that, yeah, that was for me you do things that are provocative and controversial and you're wanting to get coverage. You obviously got lots of negative coverage about that, like north korea in general, I mean it's the probably the one place I mean that provocative. It's the one place in the world that you probably wouldn't want to be or go.

Ken Robbertson:

What kind of really pulled us into this was Rodman, and he's a very he's an extraordinary individual right. He's a very colorful guy in so many different ways. This is the guy who married Madonna. This is the guy who likes dressing up as women. This is a guy who's six foot six tall and covered in tattoos and, you know, generally kind of, you know shouts at people a lot of the time.

Ken Robbertson:

But what he did genuinely believe was that by having this basketball match it will bring the two countries together, it would open potential back-channel dialogue between the US government and the North Korean regime, which it did. There was precedence for this back in the early 70s, what became known as ping-pong diplomacy, when a group of American table tennis players went over to Beijing I think at the time and this was real iron curtain time, and it was the first time a delegation of us citizens were allowed behind the iron curtain and and into very communist china at the time, and that actually led to a toying of of kind of relationships between the two countries and opened the door to carter having talks directly with the, with the chinese regime. So so there was kind of precedence for this and um, so we went into a potentially somewhat naively thinking. You know this, this, some good could come out of this.

Chris Norton:

Yeah, it could break down. Break down barriers because there was the football match between England and Germany during one of the world wars on Christmas Day wasn't there. And they famously stopped fighting each other for that day. They had a game of football in no man's land and then went back and then continued the war the day after. So it can break down. Sport can break down barriers and is good for that. It's just yeah. I can, can break down sport can break down barriers and and he's good for that.

Ken Robbertson:

It's just yeah I can see why it was controversial. How are you going to measure success for that campaign, though not being incarcerated? Yeah, yeah, I mean, we had a running joke in in in paddy power. Success was measured by the number of complaints we get, and there was a little bit of truth in that. But you know, we, we generally measured success by earned media coverage and and global earned media coverage, and it was something that that that we tracked quite closely. We, we had a long-term relationship with with kantar and, and they monitored kind of earned media coverage for us globally and, um, we, we, yeah, we, we stayed across that a lot. And then you can correlate our media coverage with spice and brand awareness and and there is different kind of modeling techniques that you know, one kind of drives the other in a way, um, but yeah, that was that was kind of it really so, um, I'm curious.

Will Ockenden:

You know you've got this kind of background in very edgy, disruptive creative campaigns. You're now CEO at the Tenth man. You work with a wide range of brands. You describe yourself as kind of a fearless creative company pushing boundaries. Now, how much of this kind of disruption are you bringing to the current brands you work with, and is it right for everyone? You know, I'd imagine a lot of brands approach you and say, look, we want to be disruptive. But you might say, look, you're not ready for it or it's not right for you. I mean, you know where's the line. How far can brands go and is it right for everyone?

Ken Robbertson:

Yeah, I mean, the simple answer is probably not, and I I mean to give you a bit of context on the Tempt man. So I left Paddy's after 18 years, in 2017. And you know, I had worked during that time, obviously, in Dublin. I'd worked for several years in London. We acquired a business called Sportsbet down in Australia, so I worked for a couple of years in Melbourne and it didn't really matter. You know where I was and which one of the big network advertising agencies we were working with.

Ken Robbertson:

I tended to have kind of similar frustrations with them and they could be booketed in. The bigger they were, the slower they tended to move, the more expensive they tended to be, and none of them really got digital in the way I needed them to. As you know, marketing director of essentially what had become an e-commerce brand. So I used those frustrations really as a blueprint to create the Tenth man. So the Tenth man kind of is the creative and production agency that you know Ken Robertson, as marketing director of Paddy Power, would have been very interested in working with. So I was trying to basically cancel all those little pain or pinch points that I had with agencies. So, yeah, like you say, we're very lucky to be working with some global brands at the moment, from Diageo, the Guinness brand, through to Red Bull, through to AIG Insurance, and disruption looks very different for them than it looks like for Paddy Power.

Ken Robbertson:

And is it right for all brands? No, we flex a lot in kind of regulated categories, whether that's sports betting, whether that's alcohol, and most of these categories need to start thinking differently, because increasing regulation means they won't be able to play by the rules they have been up until now, because, you know, the reality is they potentially won't be able to advertise on TV in the not too distant future. So you know what? How can they continue to drive brand awareness and brand salience and, essentially, sales, you know, without the support of broad reach media behind them? So that's what we do. We work with brands and businesses to lessen their dependence on traditional marketing channels or traditional advertising and channels and help them create a new kind of place to play and now that doesn't necessarily need to be, you know, at the paddy paramchief end of the spectrum, but you know, most of the time it's just helping them, you know, traverse popular contemporary culture in a way that gives real resonance and relevance to their brand so alcohol is an interesting category.

Will Ockenden:

I mean that's. That's a category we work a lot with the prohibition. Yeah, now you mentioned you work with the agio currently and and a few other brands. Yeah, Talk us through who's really sort of disruptive in that category. Then you know because, like you say, there's the you know Brewdog, yeah, but obviously we've got the Portman Code. You know it's heavily regulated in that respect. I mean, you know, what have you done or what have you seen? You know, Brewdog aside, that's smashing it in that category.

Ken Robbertson:

I side that. That's smashing in that category. I I I mean I'm obviously heavily biased here because they're a client, but but I think guinness are doing incredibly well and you know, I, like I said, I spent a bit of time in the uk when I was working with paddy, so you know, 10 years ago. Uh, if you were lucky enough to find a pub in london that sold guin, you were probably served a pint in an incorrect way and the offering wasn't great. We've recently opened an office in London in February this year, so I'm over now quite a lot, probably most weeks and Guinness it's doing so well in the UK at the moment. I think it's the fastest growing beer or the best selling beer.

Chris Norton:

It's the most popular pint, isn't?

Will Ockenden:

it I thought. Yes, the first or the second in the UK. I think it's the fastest growing beer or the best selling beer. It's the most popular brand, isn't it? I thought yes, first, or the second in the UK. I thought so.

Chris Norton:

Yeah.

Ken Robbertson:

Which is extraordinary. So the brand is working. People are, you know, clearly liking the product, liking the pour, liking the liquid, liking the experience, all that kind of good stuff. And so our big I suppose not challenge, but our big opportunity with Guinness at the moment is just continuing to make that brand, kind of to build on the iconic nature of the brand and make it more relevant with a wider cohort of people. So you know, one of the things that we did quite recently, two weeks ago, was just, uh, open the gates. So guinness is brewed in dublin and st james's gate it's. It's been around for hundreds and hundreds of years but it's never been kind of thrown open to the public. So we got them to throw open the gates a couple of weeks ago and we had, um, the, the london edm band disclosure, come over and play a set inside the gates of guinness, wow, and it was literally the hottest ticket in dublin that sounds like a party disclosure yeah, yeah, yeah, but but it was extraordinary.

Ken Robbertson:

it was a over 21s event and was limited, I think, to two and a half or 3,000 tickets. Disclosure played an incredible set, as you would expect from them, and it was just an incredible brand moment for Guinness. You know, it really was them kind of, you know, stepping up and making themselves incredibly relevant with that 20-something cohort.

Chris Norton:

Ken, can I ask you? Can I ask probably a stupid question, but it's probably why you've named it the 10th man. Because why the 10th man? Because I would. The 12th man is where are you? Let's be having you but, who? Sorry for that reference, delia? Uh, what's the? What's the 10th man, then? What does that reference?

Ken Robbertson:

um, okay, so this is something we borrowed um, somewhat unlikely from military strategy, um, and, and the way it works is if nine people around, say a military table or a military cabinet agree, like unanimously agree on a course of action, they appoint a tent man to develop a totally contrarian point of view. Now what that does is it kind of helps avoid the pitfalls of groupthink, which is a very live issue, not just in business but in life generally, and it just, yeah, encourages you to adopt a somewhat kind of contrarian point of view or contrarian approach. I think you know it's safe to say a lot of us and a lot of your listeners would have been in boardrooms over the years, and when the CMO comes in, or when the CEO comes in and gives his point of view, that's generally what happens right. That's generally what happens right. There's very few people who are brave enough to step up and kind of challenge that consensus or in any way kind of test the wisdom of the boss.

Ken Robbertson:

So we are all about and our technique, our framework as an agency, is to provoke our clients, is to, you know, deliberately go out there and say you know, are you sure this brief is right? And what's driving the brief and can we have a look at the strategy behind this? Can we take a look at the strategy that's fueling your brand positioning? And so it's almost like the brief before the brief. And, yeah, we find that, gentle, positive provocation of our partners and our clients leads to far better work.

Chris Norton:

We also you sent two fails mistakes. The second fail is equally as interesting as the first one, which was you ran an ad on the Oscar Pistorius murder trial which happened in South Africa. Do you want to share what Paddy Power, how they got involved in that, because again, that sounds rather controversial yeah, yeah, this probably wasn't our finest moment.

Ken Robbertson:

in hindsight, um, it was 10 years ago. The world was a very different place, and so Oscar Pistorius trial um kicked off on the 3rd of March 2014. And it was the biggest news event of the year and there was literally 24 hour news coverage of it. There was a TV channel that was dedicated 24-7 just to covering the trial. So in Paddy Power, we always had a kind of litmus test. If people are talking about it, you know, at water coolers in offices, if people are talking about something in pubs over a pint, you know they should be allowed a bet on it. So we had a market on whether this guy be found guilty or not guilty. And, like I said, the trial was kicking off on the 3rd of March. The day before was the Oscars in Hollywood. So we had a press ad to promote our betting that ran a couple of UK something newspapers and it was Pistorius kind of done up as an Oscar and it had it's Oscar time and the headline then was money back if he walks. Um, which got us in so much trouble.

Chris Norton:

um so many levels as well, I can imagine so many levels.

Ken Robbertson:

Yeah, um, asa moved faster than they had ever moved, uh, before to to ban the ad to prevent us from running it again, and it attracted a massive amount of of complaints. In fact, it remains the most complained about ad in british advertising history, by a factor of two actually. I think that it got six and a half thousand complaints. I think the next one was burger king got around three thousand complaints and it just inflamed very, very quickly. It was raised at PMQ to David Cameron who was prime minister at the time. There was small, low-level protests outside some Paddy Parish shops and, yeah, we got it wrong. We got it absolutely wrong. I need to take that in the chin. I wrote the ad money back. A few walks was my line, um, and you know it was foolish. Um, it was, uh, a master class and not reading the room right, um, and yeah, look, unfortunately sometimes when you're treading the edge of a razor blade, you kind of fall off on the wrong side and and yeah, in hindsight you know we were, yeah, we were you learn from that.

Chris Norton:

Right you learn from it, right you learn from it.

Ken Robbertson:

Yeah, no, you absolutely do, you absolutely do. And you know the big mantra in Paddy Power and probably you know a key reason of its success is we weren't afraid to fail and we did fail. And for every Nicholas Spentner stunt there was probably two or three other stunts you didn't see because they didn't work. But the Pistorius one, yeah, look in hindsight it was tone deaf, it was silly and yeah, that was definitely up there with my greatest fuck up go.

Will Ockenden:

It must be hard to um to, to, um to, to get it wrong like that, but then remain brave as a brand must be really difficult. You know you almost become a. You know to fight that idea that you suddenly become risk averse was that, was that an issue?

Ken Robbertson:

yeah, you know what there was. There was a little bit of, uh, not quite licking your but almost second guessing yourself in terms of could this happen again? Almost like a little bit of PTSD, because this was a time before, kind of was just the start of wokeism as a thing. Cancel culture hadn't really come out, but if it had been, we would have been cancelled. I would have been cancelled with that yeah, yeah and absolutely no doubt so.

Ken Robbertson:

So, yeah, look, absolutely, you do lose a bit of your confidence, um, and you lose a bit of your swagger and all that kind of stuff, but look, it comes back right and it comes back um.

Chris Norton:

But yeah, that was a difficult time but also, I mean, you've been involved in some amazing campaigns, so for, like you say, for it you've been brave and bold and so you've been involved in. So I think, yeah, we all, we've all made fuck-ups. That's what we wouldn't have a show if we didn't. We didn't have them.

Will Ockenden:

Yeah, yeah, I mean yeah, fascinating to hear you know thanks for being so. Uh, I'd say yeah, I mean fascinating to go behind the scenes with somebody that genuinely pushes the boundaries. I think a lot of brands describe themselves as challenger, but there's not many that go this far and get it right so many times.

Chris Norton:

And most people are held back as well. They feel like they've got ideas and they put them on the table and the boss just won't sign them off. There's so I bet there's so many marketers listening to this thinking I could never get that signed off or a campaign that they knew would work. They're just they had.

Ken Robbertson:

They're not brave enough yeah, and, and in a kind of funny way though, the good that did come out of that was the subsequent year. We kind of we almost kind of flipped mischief on its head a little bit and we said is there, is there something we can do, using mischief as a marketing tool but using it for, quite deliberately, a positive social outcome? And we got talking to Stonewall, the gay rights charity, and we had this idea called Rainbow Laces and the idea was we'd associate or we'd partner with a lot of kind of what started off as quite small football clubs and we'd send them out these rainbow colored boot laces for their, for their football boots. And there was one particular day, that kind of tied in with um, with with pride weekend, and we were trying to get all these football clubs to to wear and rainbow laces as a sign of support. Because you know it's, it's very curious that of the I don't know eight or nine hundred premier league footballers, not one is openly gay and it's kind of that doesn't really compute, you know.

Ken Robbertson:

So what's what's? What's going on here? And so we created a campaign called rainbow laces and stonewall came in and it just caught so much traction and I think 18 of the 20 premier league clubs took part in it and all the players wore rainbow laces. Gary lineker wore rainbow laces and and showed them on match of the Day that night and it just became this big kind of positive force for social change and awareness for the fact that, you know, whether we like it or not, there is homophobia in football and we need to sample out. So yeah, and that was quite deliberately, it was almost a response to getting us so wrong with Pistorius that you know we can actually get it right sometimes as well.

Chris Norton:

Fascinating yeah thanks for that Amazing to get into your mind. I think Unpick it.

Will Ockenden:

Yeah, absolutely. People will undoubtedly want to connect with you after this show. Do you want to give people the details of how they can connect with you? And and perhaps, uh, the tenth man as well?

Ken Robbertson:

yeah, absolutely, and and possibly the world's worst timing. Uh, we've just switched off our old websites. I really didn't like it. So we've got a, a holding site up there at the moment, but all of our contact details are on it. It's it's basically the tentmancom, so t-h-e-t-e-n-t-h-m-a-ncom and all contact details are up there.

Will Ockenden:

And what about yourself? Are you on linkedin and twitter and the usual channels?

Ken Robbertson:

all the usual stuff. Yeah, and there's a nice kind of snapshot of our work on instagram, which I think is tentman hello, um, and yeah, you can hit me up on instagram, just ken robertson and you've been on the show.

Chris Norton:

Now you've seen what it's about. You get a feel for how these interviews go um, if you were us, who's the next person you'd interview on this show, and why?

Ken Robbertson:

oh god, put me on the spot. Why don't you? I'm just racking through a couple of people here. Do I have to limit it to one, I suppose?

Ken Robbertson:

I do no no, you can give us a couple Right? Okay, a few of the Ryanair guys. I think would be great. From who? Sorry, a few of the Ryanair people, I think would be really good. There is Michael Corcoran. I don't know if you've had him on your show. He was the head of social media for Ryanair and very interesting guy. Left Ryanair around 18 months ago and has set up his own social media business at the moment, but he will be very much at the vanguard of social content and, I guess, disruptive use of social content. To really really cut through, I'm a big fan of what he does and so that would be one. And I'm not sure if you had james or any of the brew dog guys on your show, but but I'd say they'd be. Yeah, yeah, I reckon they'd be a fascinating listen as well.

Will Ockenden:

Be an interesting one, wouldn't they? That would be that, yeah, yeah to get in with, yeah, yeah yeah, I, I think he'd be great, he.

Ken Robbertson:

He does very little kind of media stuff, though, so it might be a challenge getting him, but, um, if, if you could, I'd I'd definitely be tuning in for that one thank you well, thanks for that, um thanks for joining us, ken.

Will Ockenden:

That was great yeah, that was brilliant. Thank you very much.

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