By Hans Ebert

It’s not just about looking forward to the horse racing. Not in 2018 and the world hurtling towards 2019. It’s about that on course experience. Easy enough to say, but difficult to do, especially when not really understanding what this means in the context of horse racing. And first creating a product that appeals to those different customer segments. Are there that many? Maybe not.

Maybe it’s only the Haves and the Have-Nots and the purists/traditionalists and those “iconoclasts” who don’t have a clue about the “protocols” of horse racing and, supposedly, the need for them. To this group, it’s about keeping it simple. It’s not about going to the church of racingology. Or as a singer friend mentioned the other day, learning to speak Jockeynese.

This latter group is the most interesting. By lengths. Without them knowing it, they’re forcing horse racing to free itself from the shackles of being trapped inside a self-made Kunta Kinte prison. Blinkered thinking that “social media” is going to have the Sport Of Kings, Queens, Sheikhs, and gawd knows who else, suddenly morph into Django Unchained? Please.

“Social media” happens up there. Somewhere online. That unsociable world where one can have millions of “friends” without knowing any of them. The on course experience is on terra firma. It’s no different to attending Glastonbury. Or Ibiza. But with the addition of horse racing and how to participate and enjoy participating without needing a degree in wagering.

If having experienced these events in person, it makes it easier to understand how and what will make that on course experience attractive for race goers. A Must Attend event. Regularly. The sustainability factor. It’s not something that can be learned by watching a YouTube clip or through second hand misinformation. For racing executives it means actually coming down from their Ivory towers and engaging with their customers before pontificating about being “customercentric” and “changing with the times”.

These words might be bought by Noddy, Big Ears and the Absolutely Agree Sheeples. But not by those who need proof that this is not more glib Corporate Speak. Or, to quote the name of a horse currently racing in Hong Kong, another serving of inedible Spicy Kaka.

Horse racing is looking very old. And tired. Even to some who once followed it religiously. It’s more Geoff Boycott than Virat Kohli. More Graham Hill than Lewis Hamilton. More overthinking than actually doing. God is in the details. So is the devil. The good old days are just old.

The buffet of other wagering opportunities don’t help. Most seem more attractive. Simple to understand. To those who cannot afford to participate, well, they don’t care either way. It’s about the scale of economics and living within one’s means.

What’s really changed about horse racing in the last three decades? Really changed. The limp bizkit programming churned out by the Oompah Loompahs don’t help. More talking wobble heads. Who are these programmes aimed at? How big is the audience? Is there a return on time and investment? Can this be quantified? So some jockeys and trainers are guests. And? Where’s the customer? Where’s the consumer generated content? Where’s the point of difference? What’s the USP?

The current “content” of cornflakes from the sausage factory is meant to entice those trying to understand the rudiments of horse racing? If the medium is the message, most wouldn’t even know where to find any of this, well, stuff. And even if they were to find it, would they buy into it? What’s the carrot? How tasty is it?

Horse racing needs SOMETHING that comes at especially those not even looking at horse racing, out of left field and like a powerful magnet on steroids. Something that’s likeable. And creative.

Not because it started life here, but the HKJC’s Happy Wednesday brand has been a game changer. It really is “customercentric”. It’s there for all to see. It’s not bland on bland. Sorry, Bob. What’s next? Is there more where this came from? And if not, why not? Happy Wednesday should be the MTV of horse racing. A relevant and more lifestyle oriented and interactive MTV. Available 24/7. Online.

Sure, keep all the facts, figures and data for those who wish to continue to rage against the hardcore machine. But when thinking about the expression “horses for courses” those “horses” are often more of the same. It’s like force feeding Mr Creosote with another wafer.

It’s starving that golden goose of the future. But maybe this is because many won’t be around to see horse racing get the massive facelift it desperately needs. And so it’s just about plodding along even if the wheels have fallen off. It’s very tough teaching old dogs new tricks.

For a sport or game of whatever it is that relies so heavily on financial risk, many driving horse racing and, hopefully, to make it more than what it is, remain terminally risk averse.

Do these people even know a creative idea if it were to roll over them and scream, “Mama! It’s me!”? And which is why it’s more of the same old same old. Creativity by numbers. Creative by committee. It’s way too dangerous being held accountable.

Meanwhile that customer base is rapidly eroding. The current market is ageing. The few who have embraced horse racing have also embraced old fashioned thinking. There’s not one Tarantino amongst them. There’s little or no sense of humour. And it shows.

It shows in the marketing. The advertising. It’s more of the same. The closeup of a horse’s eye. Nostril. The obligatory slo mo victory shot. The fist pump. Early morning trackwork. The dramatic music. Anything with a soupçon of a surprise element? Like this?

Sometimes, perhaps even quite often, one just has to chill and realise that it is what it is. What is it? What it was.

When in advertising, our worldwide Chairman would ask us Executive Creative Directors, “Where are the new young Turks?” There always were young talent wanting to win a Clio in New York or a Gold Lion in Cannes.

In the music industry, there was always at least one good A&R person. They found new artists. Artists who would give us hits. This was there talent. And job.

In horse racing, the question is this: Does it really need creativity? Or is it only about following orders?

#horseracing #marketing #creativity