LONDON (AdAge.com) -- U.K. bookmaker Paddy Power is under investigation by the Advertising Standards Authority for a commercial in which a blind soccer player kicks a cat into a tree.
More than 400 people have complained to the ASA about the spot, even though it was approved by Clearcast, the body that vets all TV spots before they are broadcast.
It shows a match played in the snow between Blind Wanderers FC and an unnamed opponent. Both teams wear bells in order to help them locate each other. After a player -- Ajmal Ahmed, the real captain of England's national blind soccer team -- accidentally kicks the cat into a tree, a Paddy Power representative walks onto the pitch.
He says, "Paddy Power can't get Tiddles back. There's nothing we can do about that. But we can get you your money back with our money-back specials." Tiddles is then heard meowing and seen walking along the branch of a tree, but her survival is not enough to reassure Britain's many cat lovers.
The ad is part of a big campaign running that coincides with the climax of the U.K. soccer season and the build-up to the World Cup, which kicks off in South Africa on June 11 and attracts a lot of gambling, both on- and off-line. According to Nielsen, Paddy Power's media spend was $3.8 million in 2009. The agency is Big Al's Creative Emporium.
Most of the complaints, according to the ASA, said that the ad was offensive because of the way it portrayed blind and sight-impaired people. A lot of viewers also thought it could "encourage or condone cruelty to animals."
Paddy Power's head of brand, Adam Perrin, said in a statement, "As with our betting, we like to have fun with our ads even though there were a lot of procedures and hurdles that we had to clear for the ad to be approved." The inclusion of genuinely sight-impaired soccer players instead of only actors was part of this process, although complainants would not necessarily have been aware of this.