Maverick bookmaker Paddy Power has started legal proceedings against the London Organizing Committee of the Olympic Games (LOCOG) in an attempt to keep its controversial ad campaign from being taken down.
Paddy Power's provocative ad announced, "Official sponsor of the largest athletics event in London this year!" The event in question is an egg and spoon race that Paddy Power has organized in London, France, next Wednesday.
The playful posters also carry the words, "There you go, we said it," before clarifying in brackets, "(Ahem, London, France that is)." They were created by two Irish agencies, Mixtape Marketing and Social House, and ran in newspapers as well as on JC Decaux billboard sites at three major London train stations -- Kings Cross, London Bridge and Victoria.
LOCOG has asked that billboard owner JC Decaux take down the posters and the newspaper campaign stop because the ads breach strict rules on ambush marketing for the London Olympic Games. Paddy Power -- which is not an official sponsor of the games -- said in a statement that the company has instructed London-based law firm Charles Russell to seek a court order to prevent LOCOG from removing the billboard ads on the grounds that the campaign does not breach LOCOG legislation on advertising around the 2012 games.
A London 2012 spokesperson said, "We can take a joke, but as you would expect we had to draw the line at the provocative references to LOCOG. We also have a responsibility to ensure that no-one thinks betting companies have any sort of official connection to London 2012."
LOCOG may also be unamused by a global TV campaign Nike is breaking this week from Wieden & Kennedy called "Find Your Greatness" that features ordinary athletes competing in places around the world called London that aren't in England. Nike isn't an Olympic sponsor, but Adidas is.
In its own statement, Paddy Power said, "We pride ourselves on listening to our customers and what we've heard loud and clear is that LOCOG have got their priorities upside-down. It's a pity they didn't put the same energy into the ticketing and security arrangements for the Games that they put into protecting their sponsorship revenue streams."
JC Decaux chose not to comment on the case. "We're taking this to the high court in the interest of our customers and of common sense." Although the ads were done by two Irish agencies, they are part of an ongoing "We Hear You" campaign for Paddy Power by CP&B's London office that focuses on listening to customers and striking up banter with them, working through social media and into traditional media.
The LOCOG spokesperson said, "We have not seen any [legal] papers yet and will reserve comment until we do."
The Irish bookmaker has a history of controversial advertising. During the Euro 2012 soccer championships in June, CP&B London created an augmented-reality app that brought Queen Elizabeth's face to life on a 10-pound note. Her Majesty was seen blowing a vuvuzela and voicing her opinions on soccer matches, but the campaign had to be withdrawn after the Bank of England pointed out that Paddy Power had not sought permission to use the queen's image as it appears on the bank note.