HORSE RACING AND THE UPHILL TASK OF WINNING OVER THOSE “YOUNGER PEOPLE”

By Hans Ebert
Visit Hans-Ebert.com

Those with zero knowledge about advertising and marketing and not knowing the difference between promotions, marketing and PR talking about how something or another is “reaching younger people” always sets off alarm bells. Especially when this something or another has nothing in it for them. Those “younger people”. Like horse racing.

In Hong Kong, it’s taken the HKJC around eight years for the idea of a Happy Wednesday race meeting to evolve from what was once known as “Sassy Wednesday” to what it is now. Sassy. It sounded old. Looked old. Didn’t work. Who approved this? Something that looked like a tacky escort club in Macau? Only The Shadow knows.

When Director of Creative Services for DDB, one of the rules caste in stone was to always remember The Tone Of Communication. And to Speak With One Voice. Especially to “younger people”. Being young back in the day, we didn’t refer to anyone as “younger people”. We still don’t. This automatically causes alienation. Creates a great divide. It restricts the creative process to Break The Pattern. This was another DDBism. To Break The Pattern. In every piece of communication we created.

With McDonald’s being our most challenging client- and biggest- to Break The Pattern is what drove us. That and advertising that appealed to the hearts and minds of the teen and tween markets. Those “younger people.”

When reworking what has become the Happy Wednesday brand, all those DDBisms came into play. Along with getting over various logistical hurdles. A Happy Wednesday today attracts an average of 14,000 people. Mainly “younger people”. Every week. Repeat: Every week. One more time: Every week.

What’s the magnet? A well thought through buffet of entertainment. Horse racing as entertainment. The jockeys. The racing. Different venues. Fashionistas. And ‘live’ music INBETWEEN each of the eight races. Average turnover for an eighth race card: HK$1.2 billion.

And so when a veteran racing writer in Australia like Patrick Bartley barges into the area of “marketing” pontificating on one of those “Gamble Responsibly” sports and racing radio channels that are 24/7 of promoting gambling, how a race named The Everest was getting “younger people” talking about it, it starts to sound, well, stodgy. Old. Irrelevant. Nonsensical. Positively Neanderthal. The Everest. A race meeting held yesterday at Randwick in Sydney. It had a former member of One Direction performing. Liam Payne. Performing AFTER the races. Quick! Name two hits by Liam Payne!

Like last year’s Everest meeting when Jason Derulo provided the music entertainment, Liam Payne is what had “younger people” even THINKING of coming to Randwick for the first time. After this visit, they’ll go into hibernation for another year.

Without a Liam Payne performing at a racecourse, there’s nothing in horse racing for them. Those “younger people.” They’re not going to make the trek for two minutes of horses racing. And between these races, twentysomething minutes of the sounds of silence. There’s nothing to engage them. Most believe the same horse runs in every race. And that jockeys wear hideous looking “blouses”. They’re not going racing to graduate with a degree in Puntology.

The HKJC and its Happy Wednesday brand got around the hurdles it faced through focusing on horse racing as a form of entertainment. Nothing hardcore. No mention of in-yer-face gambling.

This has worked to attract a very attractive and international group of regulars. This is the best endorsement needed.

Attractive people attract other attractive people. They become a community. They become a vital part of the street marketing team. For free. They know what they want. And so you stop, listen and learn from them. Those “younger people.”

A Happy Wednesday has become the biggest open air club in town. It’s fun. It makes everyone of all ages FEEL young. It’s a much needed mid-week break. And held in a convenient and a most unique location in a city of seven million people.

It’s doing more than ok. It can be more than ok. And it will. It will as long as corporate serial meddlers are not allowed in.

Many of these characters are graduates from The School Of The Peter Principle. Those often with nowhere else to go. Those who almost always want to jump aboard any successful bandwagon. It gives them a warped sense of ownership. It gives them something to do.

Why are they there? How many truly creative people think of horse racing as a career choice?

Horse racing executives becoming involved in marketing and the creative process is the kiss of death to breaking the pattern. To missing the mark. To creating chaos. To completely losing sight of attracting those “younger people.” It’s back to turnover.

The Everest in Sydney was relentless and shameless promotions and publicity. Paid publicity through advertorials. It was hyperbole gone amuck. But it worked for those behind the event. It met their business adjectives. Fine.

It would be churlish to say that the Everest wasn’t a success. It definitely was. So was Caulfield Guineas Day South of the border. Without the crass hyperbole. Both race meetings brought out the crowds. Redzel won The Everest for the second successive year. Caulfield unveiled a future star in The Autumn Sun.

Before all this, Adnews interviewed someone named Charlie Bevan. Apparently, the ace architect behind the marketing and promotion of the Everest. His comments made no sense. He came across as a right Charley.

The Adnews piece was shared with a friend who has a deft knowledge of horse racing. And marketing. Journalism. Music. Politics. And the creative product.

Her response? “I read and re-read those Charlie Bevan quotes and they are absolute gibberish. What the hell has the interests of race goers got to do with the ‘activation’ interests of sponsors?” Nothing. More hyperbole.

Speaking of nothing, was there anything produced that spoke to the “younger people”? Other than an appearance by Liam Payne? And what exactly did he have to do with horse racing?

The back story of the Everest was something else. Something all too familiar in horse racing. Especially in Australia. Another meeting of The Old Boys Club. Lots of back slapping about how well they had done. The Billionaires Old Boys Club involved in the buying and selling of what are known as slots. Numbers plucked outta thin air. Like 150 million viewers on TVG in America. Seriously? Plenty of chest pounding sound bites. With support from Ray Thomas. Patrick Bartley. And lest one forgets, Alan Jones.

Alan Jones and his insidious outburst while screaming over the phone on his radio show with threats to have the female head of the Sydney Opera House fired. It showed the IOUs the man has collected over the years by many in high places in Australia today. The Old Boys Club is also The Billionaires Bully Boy Club.

That #MeToo moment by Jones made Harvey Weinstein look like a saint. His tepid apology that wasn’t an apology and ensuing protests, had the Everest finally “go international”. It made the news. For those protests. In Sydney. The race meeting? It was promised that it would be shown “internationally”. It wasn’t. More #FakeNews. The Everest reached America, yes. On Fox Sports News and TVG. To those “150 million viewers.” True. But not really true. Not when one knows how viewership numbers are concocted. Again, why? Why the need for hyperbole? Why not go au naturelle? Unless there’s something to hide?

All publicity is good publicity? Not really. Not when it turns off so many by going one toke over the line. Not when it makes horse racing look tacky and grubby. Not when sponsors look at the fallout and say, Thanks, but no thanks to horse racing. Not when it becomes controversial. Being controversial is a turn off.

Controversial because of not just Alan Jones weighing in to help his mate Pete have the barrier draw to the Everest projected onto the sails of the Sydney Opera House. Controversial also because of “the trading floor” and the buying and selling of slots to the very few who can afford these. The Billionaires Boys Club. Controversial because of its $13 million prize money. This screamed out Greed Is Good. Horse racing now has its very own Gordon Gekko.

It’s not a good look for horse racing. Not when animal welfare groups see what’s happening and think, Gotcha! Not when the anti gambling lobby are handed new bullets. Not when those “younger people” see what’s going on and decide that going horse racing is not a great “hang”.

To many racing clubs, the marketing of the creative product either plays second fiddle or is an afterthought to turnover. It’s old fashioned thinking. Especially in this crowded marketplace where consumers are spoiled for choice. When nearly every other industry is after the same consumer dollar.

Where does horse racing stand today in the totem pole of relevance? Of importance?

Perhaps this might be the legacy of what is now described as “the controversial Everest”: Learning from its mistakes. Forcing horse racing to stop gibbering to itself. No one else cares. Even if they were to stop and listen.

To stop the corporate navel gazing. To reinvent the entire landscape. To restructure that organisation chart. To perhaps bring in a small independent creative and marketing unit comprising experienced players in their fields of expertise. Give them the freedom to do what they do best. No meddling allowed.

Have these professionals make horse racing become more likeable. Something also for “younger people.” But not through Corporate Speak.

Stop using hyperbole and paid cheerleading squads. Stop the “LOOK AT ME, LOOK AT ME” chest pounding.

Think about that “Gamble Responsibly” message. Don’t make it a turn off by then force feeding gambling options. And on the very mediums carrying these messages. It’s hypocrisy at a cringeworthy low.

Surely it’s time for those running horse racing to face some home truths? Time to talk softly and carry a big stick. And ensure that this big stick isn’t a twig.

#Horseracing #marketing #creativity #TheEverest #CaulfieldGuineasDay #TheAutumnSun #HKJC #HappyWednesdayHK #HKracing #Adnews #LiamPayne #AlanJones

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