How Paddy Power and Radiohead Shock

Over the weekend Radiohead erased their internet presence. Facebook, Twitter, website – all content gone, deleted. Either the intern is in deep trouble, or this is the first step in a well-orchestrated and elaborate new album campaign.

The online deletion was accompanied by flyers delivered through the post – IT’S LIKE THE INTERNET NEVER HAPPENED.  

Radiohead front-man Thom Yorke has a well-documented dislike for online streaming sites, including Spotify, which in 2013 he charmingly called ‘the last desperate fart of a dying corpse’. I take it he isn’t included in the 46m active worldwide users that listened to Drake in 2015 (interesting approximately 50% of their entire active user base), the platform’s most popular artist.  

Intentionally avoiding the debate around whether online music streaming is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ for artists, the industry or indeed fans – the multiple arguments put forward, whether from a long established band like Radiohead or a new artist, are all interesting and extensive.

What I’d like to draw the spotlight on today is the unlikely similarities between Radiohead’s latest campaign and the marketing exploits of Irish bookmaker Paddy Power.

On the surface – there is minimal in common between the two, however today in the office we have been referring to Radiohead’s weekend deletion as a ‘stunt’, and we all know who the king of marketing stunts is: it has to be the gambling behemoth. Hands down.

Now before Radiohead purists draw blood. Let’s take a step back and consider how and why this comparison can be drawn.

1.       Mischief

Paddy Power – mischief pumps through the brand’s DNA. They have even employed a Head Of Mischief and a Mischief Champion. From hijacking major sporting events, upsetting football fans to Daily Mail readers, the brand orchestrates stunts that generate a huge amount of media coverage and create social buzz.

Radiohead – to delete all of your Facebook updates, Tweets and website content, I would say that is pretty mischievous in 2016. Is this the dawn of a post social era*? Who knows, but perhaps ironically, this weekend’s activity has achieved a huge amount of media coverage and social buzz. 

2.       Generosity

Paddy Power – in 2015, to herald the arrival of its ‘You’re Welcome’ campaign Paddy Power fired football t-shirts from a cannon. Standard.

Radiohead – In 2007 Radiohead allowed fans to pay as much or as little as they wished for the new record, In Rainbows. At the time, Radiohead wanted to demonstrate that new, alternative models to music distribution were possible, for the fan, this meant an increasing level of choice. You’re Welcome indeed.

3.       Political Statements

Paddy Power – As a brand they are not afraid of starting or of joining the debate. In 2014 for example, the bookmaker Photoshopped ‘C’Mon England’ into the Amazonian forest to highlight deforestation. Game, set, match. 

Radiohead – seminal record Hail To The Thief, released in 2003 was a politically charged beast, weighted down by the sound of neurosis and paranoia, at the time heavily rumoured to be a reference to George Bush and the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

4.       Challenging

Paddy Power – their stunts make you think. Take the Immigration Lorry stunt from 2015, which later went on to be banned. Was there more to it, holding up a mirror to prejudice in the UK? 

Radiohead – recently making charged comments about the role of YouTube and its control of culture, likening the service to Nazi rule. Here’s the full article.

Essentially what we have here is two b(r)ands wholeheartedly embraced by the mainstream that deploy subversive and challenging marketing techniques to the delight and shock of their legions of fans.

But how did they get here? A further characteristic both have in common, which acts as an enabler for this type of bold marketing activity, is great ‘product’, which of course helps to maintain the loyal fan base.

They may be selling different products, but both brands, by a combining great product and marketing, have effectively reached the level where they can be bold and encourage healthy debate.

Winning formula: excellent product, bold marketing.

*Seemingly not, as today Radiohead creep back onto the internet to unveil new music.