Think like a Troll without being Burned

by Chris Fairbairn

Monday, July 27th, 2015

They’re everywhere – but should Trolls really exist in public relations?

Edinburgh PR agency highlight why you need to beware of the rise of the PR trollIT’S NOT  just the thousands of frizzy haired collectibles gurning in the back of 90’s kids cupboards. It’s not even the keyboard warriors hurling odious insults and remarks towards your stock C-lister on Twitter in a desperate plea for attention.

Stoking the emotions has long been a marketing strategy for firms looking to connect on a deeper level with a certain demographic.

It would seem that we are now seeing extremes of this – elements of trolling and sailing extremely close to the wind are being used by brands to court controversy and generate column inches, spearheaded by the self-acclaimed mischief makers themselves, Paddy Power.

A dangerous game to play, with fingers burned on multiple occasions – this cheeky PR campaign suits only a certain type of firm in a certain type of industry, but done right it can do remarkable things to the bottom line.

Following on from our Ryanair blog post which assessed the reasoning and success behind a controversial PR and customer relations strategy that purposefully riled its customers, we now make a slight left turn, to the infamous bookies straddling the perilous line between humour and offence.

Read our Ryanair blog post: Why cheap doesn’t have to be nastyRyanAir CEO, Michael O'Leary, was at Edinburgh Airport to announce the next set of expansions for the company over the next year. (c) Wullie Marr/DEADLINE NEWS For pic details, contact Wullie Marr........... 07989359845


The generating of copious column inches, much of it derisory, plus 1.4 million Facebook fans along the way has helped propel Paddy Power into the position of market leader – the largest Bookmaker in Europe, a staggering expansion from the firms inception in 1988.

Once again it was goading the public (notably Scots) last month when it paraded a truck welcoming immigrants (so long as they are good at sport) to jump on the back along the channel crossing.

However, the truck contained a big image of Andy Murray alongside English international sports stars born overseas. What could have been a smart bit of satire highlighting our nations fickle relationship with immigration policy turned into a slightly confused statement – but once again it made the headlines that the firm is so accustomed to.

By sailing close to the wind Paddy Power has of course overstepped the mark at times although it has had its roaring successes. Here we look at both ends of that spectrum and assess why elements of trolling – as long as they are intelligently and creatively applied yet firmly tongue-in-cheek can be so successful…

When Paddy Power got it right

By choosing Denmark’s Nicklas Bendtner, a cult hero of the footballing world with an ego far exceeding his ability, to sport a pair of Paddy Power branded undergarments at the 2012 European Championships – Paddy Power pushed the boat, took the resulting fine but revelled in the vast ensuing publicity.

A perfect mix of humour, cheek and harmless fun, this created evergreen content that Paddy Power themselves attributed to a bump in takings.

Holyrood PR in Edinburgh discuss if trolling is good for your PR campaign When Paddy Power got it wrong

There are some places you just don’t go. When Paddy Power sent out a tweet referencing Newcastle United’s lack of success against Liverpool at Anfield over the years and comparing it with police brutality against African-Americans, it was clear that a line had been stepped.

Such a lack of sensitivity can only tarnish a brand and chase more ethically minded betting fans away to competitors.

Changes on the horizon?

The fundamental issue with this type of campaign is weariness. Over time, the power to shock will inevitably decline, leaving a worn-out public that turns its back on a perpetrator that begins to resemble the attention-starved naughty kid at nursery.

It would be arrogant not to acknowledge or even carefully applaud the huge success of the Paddy Power marketing ethos. It has propelled an ambitious brand founded only in 1988 into the largest bookmaker in Europe with an annual income of over £500m and it has done it with an attitude and focus completely distinguishable from its major rivals.

This market leading status means that Paddy Power is no longer a challenger brand. It is instead the market leader and can no longer convincingly play the role of cheeky upstart.

Strategies change when you are a competitor – why PR can make all the difference and make you a contender.


Like Ryanair, we would fully expect Paddy Power to make a u-turn at some point in its Marketing and PR strategy. The finite nature of its antagonistic campaigns and an inevitable flattening or decline in growth will be the most likely drivers that will turn the troll into a much friendlier beast all round.

Knowing your sector and client-base is key to determining whether or not you should take inspiration from Paddy Power.

Well applied it can give you copious column inches – but a word of warning, a slight slip and the ugly beast will inevitably reveal itself.

Want to take on the established brands in your sector but unsure of your PR strategy?

Our Scottish PR Agency is happy to talk to you and if you want to pop in we’ll even provide the refreshments. Failing that you can give us a call on 0131 561 2244 or use the contact form below:

Your Name (required)

Your Email (required)


Your Message


Chris Fairbairn of Scottish public relations agency, Holyrood PR in Edinburgh

Chris Fairbairn

Chris Fairbairn is an Account Director with award-winning public relations agency Holyrood PR. He is part of an expert PR team delivering PR services to a wide range of clients from headquarters in Edinburgh, Scotland.

View Chris's Profile

Related Posts

So how can we help?

Benefit from business video

Benefit from business video


Find out how affordable video can bring a host of benefits to your business.

Make an impact with PR photography

Make an impact with PR photography

Find out more

Every story can be told better with pictures. Discover our affordable, high-impact photo packages.

If you have any comments or questions, please contact us.


Keep ahead of your opposition by getting the free tips, insights and secrets we share for businesses. Straight to your inbox, every month.
Email address
First Name
Last Name