You probably know Paddy Power best as the bookie whose ads regularly get banned. Whether it's a Jesus look-alike in Italy, a blind footballer kicking a cat into a tree or a vet tranquillising chavs at Cheltenham, the Dublin-based company is always in the news.
It’s also got a history of attention-grabbing stunts.
In January, after Manchester United’s 1-3 defeat away to Chelsea inflicted yet more gloom on the club’s fans, it erected a waxwork statue of Sir Alex Ferguson in front of Old Trafford with the tongue-in-cheek invitation, "In case of emergency, break glass".
At the time, Paddy Power was offering odds on Ferguson’s successor, David Moyes, getting sacked at 13/5 and Ferguson returning at 13/2.
Last July it sent four tubby blokes round London in nappies to publicise its royal baby odds. At 2012’s Ryder Cup, it irritated Tiger Woods by sky-writing him a good luck message from 12 of his recent girlfriends.
What these stunts obscure, however, is that content is a critical part of Paddy Power’s DNA. Its success is based on a lot more than just PR stunts (of which getting your ads banned might be one).
You can even see this in its most recent annual report, accompanied by a book of horsemeat recipes entitled ‘Cooking up Mischief: a practical guide to horseplay’: rare for a stock exchange-listed company.
As the company itself says, its personality is all about mischief (it even employs a head of mischief), and entertainment – the sort that defined the Loaded and FHM era. Compared to its more staid competitors, Ladbrokes and William Hill, Paddy Power is cheeky, irreverent, laddish. You may get irritated from time to time, but the charm and fun win you over.
Its latest report to investors says: "Our differentiated brand positioning is a fundamental asset."
Why is content so critical to Paddy Power?
Clearly, it’s one way it differentiates itself in a crowded space.
However, the real motivation lies in the business model, which is based on getting frequent, regular, repeat business from your customers – and thus the point at which the content comes in.
Paddy Power has a high-street presence, but the real drive is to online betting, so the content is geared to driving online customer acquisition. It’s obviously working – online customers have grown 44 per cent a year on average over the last three years.
Given Paddy Power’s target market of young males, mobile is obviously crucial. Just under half (47 per cent) of its revenues come from mobile, and 63 per cent of customers transact via mobile.
Mobile is all about living in the moment, so Paddy Power’s content has to be easily accessible via mobile, and lend itself to the device – short, snappy, easily consumed and highly topical.
Post-acquisition, the aim of the content is to engender loyalty – in a market where special offers are two-a-penny – and drive betting activity. And it gains added value by allowing punters to move seamlessly online between content consumption and the betting platform.
Paddy Power betting covers sports, politics, current events and what it charmingly calls novelties. In the past these have included the next Pope, Irish abortion laws, and currently feature 'Celebrity Big Brother', 'Splash', and the proposed fight between Charles Saatchi and Taki – the latter the favourite at 5/4).
Topicality is a key element. If there’s always something new to bet on, the punters will keep coming back.
For example, you can currently bet on which seat Boris Johnson might stand in at the next election (West Belfast: 500/1) or when and how Julian Assange might leave the Ecuadorian embassy.
All this is backed up by a ton of content produced by a team of 16. Day to day, the bulk of the content generation is visible on the website blog.
It’s a combination of banter, mischief, speculation, news and, well, just outright silliness. Bang on for Paddy Power’s target market.
There are videos, infographics, jokes, GIFs and even specialist guest bloggers such as former Manchester City bad boy Joey Barton or renowned political blogger Guido Fawkes, whose post takes you to a bet on how long Ed Balls will last as shadow chancellor.
While its in-house bloggers portray themselves as enthusiastic amateurs (just like their audience), they nevertheless post like professionals – frequently, regularly, and get the tone of voice spectacularly right.
Although I imagine content is planned with news-room like precision, it looks as though they make it up as they go along – which is part of the appeal.
More to the point, there’s always a topicality to every blog post, ensuring that Paddy Power is engaging with whatever its audience is talking about. In addition, each post is about or connected to an event or piece of sports action and links to the relevant bet, meaning there’s always a call to action.
Big on social
There’s no point in pumping all this content out, however, unless it’s integrated with social media. It’s clear that social is also a major part of the operation not only to keep customers connected, but also to recruit new ones.
Paddy Power itself uses social as a key metric, saying that every man over 18 in the UK on Facebook is connected to at least one Paddy Power fan. The viral nature of the content increases its chances of being shared. Its interim financial report in November last year claimed a 10pc increase in social media fans to 1.9m (Twitter and Facebook combined).
Facebook fans can also bet on in-play action directly without leaving the site via an app – a first for Facebook, claims Paddy Power.
While the mischief is writ large, there’s an element of risk. A video last year featuring North Korea’s Kim Jon-Un as the new owner of Sunderland blowing up the team’s relegation rivals has disappeared, and plans to sponsor Denis Rodman’s basketball tour of North Korea were abruptly cancelled last month after Kim executed family members.
Even Paddy Power has to be careful when it comes to mixing with murderous autocrats.
That apart, Paddy Power’s strategy is clearly working over the longer term. Between 2008 and 2012 amounts staked more than doubled from €2.1bn to €5.6bn, and profits rose from €75m to €136m. It is cautious about last year, saying adverse results in Australia and the Champions League will hit profits, but there’s no change in its marketing strategy.
Written by the CMA (The Content Marketing Association) www.the-cma.com