Paddy powers on despite trans advert shutdown

We take a closer look at the Paddy Power ‘trans-stallion-dog’ ad which has left broadcasters, regulators and the firm red-faced

Paddy powers on despite trans advert shutdown
23 February 2012

As the Paddy Power controversy drags on, it is clear that the majority of UK institutions are impotent to prevent a determined and cynical intent by a major commercial enterprise to cock a snook at them. Worse, their inability to deal with the provocation serves mostly to expose their own contradictions, leaving the real offender laughing all the way to the bank.

Let’s start with the whys and wherefores.

For those who haven’t picked up on the full horror of this saga yet, the fuss – the absolute shock currently doing the rounds – started with Irish bookmakers, Paddy Power publicizing their presence at Ladies’ Day at the Cheltenham races on 14 March in England with an advertising campaign that implies they are going to send in a load of trans women for punters to ‘spot’.

An accompanying ad campaign warns fans to be careful they don’t mistake a ‘stallion’ (trans woman) for a ‘mare’ (‘real’ woman) – and isn’t above implying that women who fail to make the cut, aesthetically, are ‘dogs’. Cue outrage not just from the trans community, but from women’s groups too.

There are a number of big events at Cheltenham each year: the one sponsored by Paddy Power – the meet where their logo is plastered liberally all over the place – is not the March one. So, they have fallen into a habit of ambush publicity, gaining notice way above their advertising spend by ensuring that what they do provokes the authorities – but not so much that real trouble ensues.

This year, its their ‘spot the tranny’ campaign. A couple of years back, it was a Hollywood-style sign erected without any permission on Cleeve Hill, overlooking the racecourse. Locals fumed. The publicity flowed.

They calculated, pretty obviously, that whatever trifling fines they incurred, it would cost less than the value of the publicity. Meanwhile, professional bodies – the British Horseracing Authority, who have been trying to improve the reputation of racing over the last few years, and Cheltenham Racecourse itself, which might have difficulty finding an alternate sponsor for their November meet – just grit their teeth and look the other way.

Over the years, Paddy Power has caused a lot of offence, with advertising that is sexist, misogynist and mocking of disabled persons. But so what? A couple of years back, responding to the most complained of ad in 2010 (which featured blind people kicking a cat), the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) decided it was not offensive enough to do anything about. Game, set and match to Paddy.

Whether they get quite such a free ride this time round is debatable. The ad originally went to Clearcast, as all ads must, for a view on whether it was likely to breach standards set by monitoring bodies such as OfCom and the ASA.

Sure, it was edgy. But so is Frankie Boyle. This ad, they believed, fell into a British tradition of risqué humour. Besides, they had the endorsement of trans support organisation the Beaumont Society to fall back on. Where was the harm?

Strike one! The Beaumont, following major embarrassment one week previously over its role in outing a trans man who gave birth last year, is now in many trans quarters a pariah organisation. Out of date, out of touch and out of order seems to be the consensus.

Meanwhile, and so far on the side of the angels, the ASA has responded to the volume and stridency of complaints by convening an investigation within days, as opposed to the two weeks or so it usually takes them. They will be looking not just at whether this ad gives offence, but also at its social impact.

Some media organisations – most notably, broadcaster ESPN – decided not to run the ad. Others, including Channel 4 and BSkyB went for it initially, on grounds that the ad has been cleared by Clearcast.

Strike Two! Just under a year ago, Channel 4 was proudly leading the way on transgender issues, welcoming Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone to the launch of a memorandum of understanding agreed with Trans Media Watch and setting out standards for the sensitive treatment of trans issues in future. Now they are decidedly out on a limb, with mutterings of hypocrisy being voiced by some in the trans community.

Since then, events have overtaken Channel 4 and the others, including Paddy Power to some extent. The level of complaints have actually done the trick and, after a crisis meeting, the broadcasters and Clearcast have decided to stop airing it in the UK. However, it could be argued that the harm has already been done.

Strike three! Back in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire Police, too are stunned into immobility. They have been aware of this campaign since the weekend: have been discussing how to respond; but also know that they are the ones who must pick up the consequences of the social issues being hinted at by the ASA.

The bottom line is whether this advert is likely to incite violence on the streets of Cheltenham as thousands of drunken punters pour into the town on 14 March, as some women – trans and non-trans – fear it will.

Taking the line that this is mostly about offense, local MP, Martin Horwood has slammed the ad as ‘offensive to women in general’, describing it as ‘replete with prehistoric social and sexual attitudes that show racing in a bad light’. However, he felt that legal intervention would not help.

That is not the view of Irish Transgender organisation, TENI (Transgender Equality Network Ireland), who have spent the week looking at legal options, but have so far been unable to raise the thousands of Euros necessary to take the matter to the Irish High Court.

On the bright side, the furore may have opened some doors for Trans Media Watch, who have made great inroads over the past year with the print media and Press Complaints Commission – and who have now established frank and friendly relations with Clearcast on the back of this episode.

The winner in all this, though – always the winner, unless far greater sanctions can be imposed – is Mr Paddy Power (the boss of the organisation of the same name). Earlier in the week, he was more than happy to get on the phone and portray this as nothing more than a row over competing standards of humor. The implication, of course, was that those who didn’t get the joke didn’t have a sense of humor.

However, when asked about the potential of the ad to cause violence, he was strangely silent. As, of course, one would expect. He knows that the worst that will happen is a minor knuckle-rapping and of course, the pulling of the ad, which has already paid for itself many times over in terms of worldwide brand awareness.



No thumbnail available

Florida Family Association will not be allowed to intervene in gay marriage cases

A US district court judge has rejected a motion by lawyers for the anti-gay Florida Family Association to intervene in two challenges to that state’s ban on same-sex marriage
No thumbnail available

Sierra Leone gay activist escapes broken glass murder attempt

George Reginald Freeman, a Sierra Leone LGBT activist narrowly escaped a murder attempt after a local tabloid outed him, which he blames for inciting violence
No thumbnail available

Science can now create ‘lesbian mice’

Chinese researchers bred female mice with a lack of serotonin which led to 'genital sniffing' and 'same-sex mounting'
No thumbnail available

Israeli Health Ministry proposes to allow surrogacy for gay couples

Israel’s Health Ministry has put forward a proposal to allow same-sex couples access to surrogacy in Israel while 65 babies born to surrogates in Thailand will begin to join their gay parents in Israel
No thumbnail available

Joey Barton arrested after incident outside gay club

Queens Park Rangers footballer released on bail after being 'sucker punched in the back of the head'
No thumbnail available

Gay film festival hopes to screen sex movies

The Mardi Gras Film Festival in Sydney, Australia, has applied to screen movies featuring real sex acts
No thumbnail available

Minnesota Vikings assistant coach 'vehemently' denies allegation that he is anti-gay 'bigot'

Mike Priefer accuses former Viking Chris Kluwe of attacking his character and insulting his professionalism
No thumbnail available

Iran pop star’s gay video sparks uproar

Googoosh has become one of the most prominent Irianians to speak out against homophobia in the conservative country
No thumbnail available

Delta Air Lines says sorry for ‘H8GAYS’ boarding pass

Passenger says he was left 'extremely uncomfortable' after his boarding pass code was very homophobic
No thumbnail available

How celebrating our heritage shows we are all different

Lia Latchford talks about why it is important for her as a lesbian and young black feminist to look at the past achievements of other LGBT women