U.K. Regulator: Betting Firm's Oscar Pistorius Ad Brought Disrepute to Industry

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The ad from betting firm Paddy Power showed the South African Paralympian's head superimposed on an Oscar statuette and offered "money back if he walks" for bets on his murder trial.

LONDON – The U.K. advertising watchdog has ruled that an ad by betting firm Paddy Power that drew a record number of complaints for referencing the murder trial against South African Paralympian Oscar Pistorius brough advertising into disrepute.

Paddy Power, headquartered in Ireland but also operating in the U.K., had run an ad in The Sun, the tabloid owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp, and online offering "money back if he walks," meaning if the athlete is found not guilty of the murder of model girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, for bets on the trial. 


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The Paddy Power ad, which ran in The Sun on Sunday, showed Pistorius' head superimposed on an Oscar statuette. The text read: "It's Oscar Time. Money back if he walks. We will refund all losing bets on the Oscar Pistorius trial if he is found not guilty."


Britain's Advertising Standards Authority banned the ad earlier this month, although the betting firm said it wasn't planning to use it again. The ASA also said it had record a record 5,200 complaints within a few days. The previous record was held by a KFC ad showing call center employees singing with their mouths full, which had drawn 1,671 complaints.


The ad watchdog said it would probe if the ad was "offensive for trivializing the issues surrounding a murder trial, the death of a woman and disability." The ASA also said it would look at whether the ad "brings the good reputation of advertising generally into dispute."


Now, it has ruled that this was the case, the Guardian reported.


"The ad had appeared in the context of a high-profile murder trial that had received extensive media coverage and was of interest to the public," the Guardian quoted ASA as saying. "We considered it would therefore have been reasonable to foresee that serious or widespread offense was likely to be caused by placing an ad that sought commercial advantage based on that trial and which made light of the sensitive issues involved."


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It concluded: "Given the content of the ad, and the prevailing circumstances at the time of its publication, we concluded that it brought advertising into disrepute."


The paper also quoted Paddy Power as saying that the ad was not meant a commentary on death, violence or disability, but reflected public interest in the case.

It also argued that the phrase "if he walks" was "an inoffensive and relevant play on words," adding that the firm has supported sporting events with disabled athletes, the Guardian also reported.

The partly televised trial against double amputee Pistorius started early this month. The athlete, known as the "Blade Runner," is charged with the premeditated murder of Steenkamp at his home in Pretoria. He has pleaded not guilty, claiming he shot her after mistaking her for an intruder.


E-mail: Georg.Szalai@THR.com

Twitter: @georgszalai