A Pie of Two Halves: the case for and against Sun Bets’ half-baked PR stunt

Sun Bets’ pie-eating stunt has caused ripples in the PR industry – and the Pitch Marketing Group office.

Many PR commentators have labelled the move as tasteless – exploitive in its treatment of non-league Sutton United – the type of activation long past its sell-by date!

But if the proof is in the pudding for brand managers, there’s no denying the column inches. Fittingly for a David-Goliath cup tie, challenger brand Sun Bets has become the name on everyone’s lips.

Here Pitch PR Account Managers Adam Wright and Matt Hall attempt to lift the lid on #PieGate…

Was #PieGate just another over baked PR stunt?

By Adam Wright

In light of the news surrounding Sun Bets’ partnership with FA Cup underdogs Sutton United it is hard to not feel a little duped by the betting firm. Just like millions of football fans up and down the country, I was watching on as the ‘roly poly keeper’ bit into his baked treat and turned to my flatmate to laugh about the ‘magic of the cup’.

It was great to see that Wayne Shaw; the pie chomping, shot stopping club talisman, hadn’t changed his habits and that even in the shadow of Arsene Wenger he was happy to indulge a little … it was his special evening after all.

Fast forward to the next day, and we are then told that the actions of said talismanic pie face were in fact the brainchild of Sutton’s ‘for one night only’ betting brand.

The activation is no doubt cheap (in every sense of the word) and Sun Bets might argue it is ‘banter’, but the bookmaker has a duty to promote fair and responsible gambling to its punters and the industry as a whole.

The issue here isn’t the act of doing the stunt, a good specials market making light of Sutton’s achievements or the unlikeliest of results is something that should be encouraged. However to activate something of this nature without the foresight to see the issue it could cause, both for regulations and the individuals involved is something I find hard to take.

This isn’t clever or playful … it’s rather stupid and undignified of Sun Bets… they have even been promoting the bets they’ve paid out on the 8/1 ‘pie munching’ market.

The search for visibility is a slippery slope, and in my eyes this has to stand as an example of how not to activate the minnows, how not to involve your brand with a truly historic and unfathomable sporting accomplishment. Sponsorship of Sutton should be about making their evening as special as possible and instead they have been left as somewhat of a laughing stock. It certainly has left a bad taste in my mouth.

In Praise of PieGate!

By Matt Hall

A 46-year-old goalkeeper who weighs 20-stone eating a pie on a substitutes bench is not one for the PR purists.

It is non-league PR. Not as easy on the eye as Arsenal’s tiki-taka midfield, the stunt wasn’t conceived in a PR agency’s beanbag boardroom, for an agency would’ve warned of the media backlash and advised against the activation.

As a tactical idea, PieGate is route one. A big boot up the field that Roarie Deacon might just run onto and finish off. It’s no surprise to note that the caper was cooked up in-house by Sun Bets’ parent company News UK. It smacks of Red Top, Murdoch thinking. And in this particular case, Sun Bets have hit the back of the net.

As a challenger brand, launched in August 2016, Sun Bets has become flavour of the month in an incredibly crowded and competitive marketplace. Their rise mirrors that of minnows Sutton United and the proof is in the pudding for their number-crunching brand managers.

The talk-ability and media generation is undeniable, so perhaps the industry nay-sayers should be eating humble pie.

SunBets as a brand will not give a crumb for industry opinion. Their goal was to uncover a recipe to amplify a five-figure sponsorship investment and to make it more than a paid-for branding opp on the BBC. It became a national sensation.

And if Sun Bets have alienated football purists, media and the marketing industry on the journey, they will simply retort these people are not potential customers (plus the media were already alienated). More reputable brands – including Morrisons and MeatLiquor – even reacted with PR stunts of their own, seeking a slice of the action.

But spare a thought for Wayne Shaw, evidently a big character with a fantastic sense of humour. He’s enjoyed a taste of fame, but ultimately had his fingers burned at the will of a multi-national media conglomerate.

He’s not the first.

Some will pine that it’s sad football has stooped to become reality TV, but in the cold rational light of day, the activity should be judged a success for the brand.


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