By Hans Ebert

“Does horse racing really need to be creative? Doesn’t it kinda just sell itself?” It was a two part question asked by a small group of very international creative types during a long lunch earlier this week at a hotel in Hong Kong.

Some had had their flights canceled because of a rampaging Typhoon Mangkhut and were taking shelter from the storm. Others were soaking in the experience of being caught in a real typhoon for the first time. My thoughts were with friends in the Philippines. And those here and their families and property there. Meanwhile Twitter went into such ferocious overdrive with constant updates and videos from so many alarmists, it needed its caffeine intake taken away.

As for our group, for three days, we had been presenting thoughts and discussing the marriage of creativity and technology. Also how to tame and stop feeding the beast that is Social Media. It’s growing way outta proportion. And importance. It’s robbing minds. Life has never ever been so lacking in priorities. So affected by the most petty of everything. Think this has not affected the creative process? And the creative product? Dumbed down the world into snippets of hashtags and misinformation?

At one time or another we had all worked in advertising. We reminisced. We tore people apart. Clients, especially. Account servicing people. Management. The flim flam men. And management was often rotten to the core with flim flam men. Why? Ask that often irrelevant position in every organisation known as Human Resources. If this isn’t Big Brother, gawd knows what is.

The power wielded by the head Human Resources person is obscene. And what makes someone a “good” Human Resources person, anyway? Who hires THEM? What are their qualifications?

We thought about the truly great work- print and television commercials- produced when in advertising for Volkswagen and Burger King to Nike and Heineken. They were creative then. Relevant today. Work crafted by wordsmiths and designers. Work that could not be ignored. Has horse racing anywhere ever created work this memorable?

There was so much work for non profit organisations like the Samaritans. Some we had worked on. The work had helped raise the bar. It had helped those needing someone to just listen. Not judge.

We talked about the friendly rivalry. That burst of enthusiasm and inspiration upon hearing that one’s work was up for a Clio or, especially, a Gold Lion Grand Prix in Cannes.

The latter was the Oscars of advertising when winning an Oscar meant something. When advertising was more than a tweet and a gif. When it meant something to go from being a Junior Copywriter to Director of Creative Services. When real Mad Men became our mentors. They’re still with us wherever we go. They keep us honest to ourselves.

Being the only one with a role in horse racing, the conversation turned to what exactly I do in whatever it is that I do. It wasn’t Let’s Pick On Hans Time. It was a genuine interest in what the role of a former Director Of Creative Services with one of the biggest international ad agencies is in horse racing.

After all, here were highly talented individuals in various creative-driven industries- movies, television, fashion, music, art. Their perception of horse racing is that it’s something from a different era- mainly the fifties- and catering to those who want nothing more than to gamble on some horse races. Nothing more, nothing less.

There might be some marketing involved, but what exactly is being marketed? Gambling? And again, where do I fit in?

Though some knowing I once enjoyed taking in the Melbourne Spring Carnival, hanging out with the Wild Bunch always able to spot a free lunch and owned a few slow ones, was I now marketing gambling instead of products like Audi, McDonald’s, Volkswagen and the latest album release by Gorillaz? Don’t think so.

Before she understood what I do when it comes to horse racing- and often there’s a need to “go rogue” to produce what I believe is needed instead of getting tangled up in corporate red tape and spicy kaka- the person I am currently seeing was asking the same question.

Smart. A lawyer. Well off. Very attractive. Educated in the States. Looks great in flats. The first Chinese girl I have pursued, she’s worth the thrill of the chase. She makes me feel like Don Draper. But without the cigarettes and glass of scotch.

Her parents know the ins and outs and sideways of horse racing in Hong Kong. Uncles and cousins have very strong business interests and ownerships in horses in Australia and Europe. For me, it’s like joining the cast of “Crazy Rich Asians”. But instead of Singaporean Chinese, this one stars Crazy Rich Hong Kong Chinese. They’re often crazier. And far richer. They know horse racing. They know the players.

Still, despite all this “home schooling” going on around her, she’s looked at horse racing suspiciously. Something not for her. Not cool enough. Not a priority. No redeeming qualities. Today, suspicion is replaced by questioning. Must be the legal briefs. But a thawing process has begun.

The night we first met- totally one of those sliding doors moments- and hearing I was associated with the HKJC, it brought about a strange look to her face. I thought it was the Bellini.

Her total disinterest in what I do had me quickly go through my curriculum vitae. It helped. At least the experience in the music industry and that I knew my musical history. Especially the Hoagy Carmichael songbook. Extremely outré for a 33 year old pretty traditional Chinese girl.

These days, she understands what I’m trying to do. Trying. She realises everything might go down in flames. But it won’t from lack of trying. And if it does, there’s a damn good film script from the years in horse racing. A dark comedy.

The word often mentioned within horse racing circles is “hardcore.” Nothing wrong with this. Every industry needs its most loyal customer base. The hardcore supporters. It’s the groundwork for everything else. Where it goes wrong is when there’s no elevator at ground level to take one to other floors. Maybe vertigo has struck?

Too often, those running horse racing lose sight of this. Building that elevator. Expanding that customer base. It’s why McDonald’s didn’t stick with only the Big Mac and Fries. It varied its menu. Customers demanded it. New customers saw McSalads and became regulars. It expanded transaction count. With horse racing, where’s the new?

In Hong Kong, we have the Happy Wednesday brand. It’s a world of difference to anything anywhere else in horse racing. Ask visitors from Ladbrokes in Australia. Trainer Simon Miller and his crew from Western Australia. Visiting jockeys. Owners. Racing executives from other racing jurisdictions.

Attending a Happy Wednesday makes horse racing a fun experience. It’s got style. It’s Group 1 entertainment.

Apart from everything that makes a Happy Wednesday a happy Wednesday and the brilliant creative work from France Galop, there’s not a helluva lot out there.

What’s out there is more of the same to more of the same because this is what happens when the pursuit of making turnover numbers takes over from everything else. It’s like listening to a bad Rapper on Repeat.

It’s working to please a very small circle of customers which, like a noose, is tightening, because those with the spending power are going elsewhere. They have choices.

Whatever messages horse racing is sending out is not reaching them. Important to understand and fix. Either that or these messages are not attracting them. Not attracting them enough. Clicking that “like” button on any social media platform means nothing if these don’t result in larger attendance figures on course.

The big betting computer syndicates are fine. They have more information than they need. On websites with everything there including the kitchen sink. The design and ease of navigation through many of these? A dog’s breakfast. And it’s been allowed to continue.

There are then the usual formulaic programming. Tipping shows. Glib interviews by the irrelevant with the irrelevant about the irrelevant except for racing’s serial twitterers.

Is there a creative director involved in any of this content? Or is this another example of arbitrary thinking by a racing executive without the faintest idea of marketing? It’s like the endless apps, Dimitri.

The hardcore customer is more stuffed than Mr Creosote. Is more of the same content going to entice them to bet more in the same old wagering landscape where one might catch a glimpse of Tonto?

Before meeting me, the person I am seeing had gone horse racing less than a dozen times. In Melbourne, Newmarket and Sha Tin. Will she be back for more? Not unless something is forced upon her. Why? No interest in what she sees as being only about gambling. And being unsure if she will meet like-minded people. Younger people than her parents. Interesting people. Somewhere to switch off and let the music take her wherever she wants to go.

She’s not unusual. There are many like her. As a creative person, I can only dangle some attractive carrots to entice them. Perhaps she’ll find mine to her taste.

Perhaps there can be work that will win a Clio. There’s always the movie. Where there’s passion and an unwavering belief in something, everything is possible. Even in horse racing.

#horseracing #creative #marketing #socialmedia #HapyWednesdayHK #CrazyRichAsians #FranceGalop #DonDraper