By Hans Ebert

Those in advertising and especially those who were in advertising when it was booming and everything seemed possible know all too well that nothing lasts forever.

When at DDB, we produced enough award winning work for McDonald’s that would fill around a thousand McHappy Meals. TC- Transaction Count- was up, and everything was up. We had taught the world the Big Mac Challenge, convinced customers to describe McDonald’s fast food outlets as restaurants and sold the mantra about the McQualities of Q,S,C,V- quality, service, cleanliness and value.

This marriage between McDonald’s and DDB was going to go the distance. It didn’t. After decades together, McDonald’s left us for a new partner.

Advertising is a tough business and winning and holding onto clients is even tougher. If there’s a senior management change and the account is up for “renewal”, it’s is another way of saying, Adios, amigos. It’s the big Kiss Off.


Every business that depends on advertising- and sponsorship is advertising- is almost always on the front foot to make these partnerships work while always- always- looking at potential new clients. Just in case.

More and more, advertisers want more bangs for their buck. It’s not them being Oliver Twisted. It’s business, the economy and about looking at the effectiveness of the partnership.

Sales go down and marketing and advertising budgets are the first to be cut.

This leads to the question, Who is looking at advertisers and sponsors and their potential roles in the present and future of horse racing?

Advertisers are needed for horse racing to move forward. Of course for their marketing dollars, but also for their databases. And to perhaps work with their ad agencies.

There’s much that can be learned from the right ad agency. Repeat: Right ad agency. Plenty are filled with Yes People. The right ad agency has done the hard yards. They have other clients on their rosters who might have a yet undiscovered role to play in horse racing.

These right ad agencies can bring more of everything to the party. Like even changing those laborious presentation ceremonies that are only a photo opp for the owners. After all these years, these exercises in irrelevance are left to just meander along. With a little thought, they could actually be more than they are. Perhaps part of a “Winning” campaign. But here’s not the place to brainstorm.

Too much from Ye Olde Big Book Of Horse Racing is allowed to carry on in a Monty Pythoneque manner until everyone and everything is singing from the silly hymn book.

Interspersed are the usual sound bites about reaching “younger people” and being “customercentric” while the actual image of horse racing continues without ever being clearly defined.

How’s is horse racing presented to perspective business partners? Where’s the beef? The USP? How exactly does it take two to tango? Questions, always more questions…

Surely it’s also time to explore how these partnerships can work better using all the new delivery platforms available and, at the same time, attract more marquee value brands?

Forget that they sell “sneakers” and are associated with soccer and basketball stars, but why can’t horse racing attract brands like Nike, Adidas and Reebok?

All three brands have a corporate ethos. Most of us recognise the Nike swish and the theme “Just Do It”. Why can’t “Just Do It”, which is now tackling more socially aware subjects, work with horse racing?

“Just Do It” says never give up, don’t let anything hold you back. Dream big. Plus Nike’s inspirational social responsibility campaigns are not only brilliant, they’re relevant to everyone. They’re inspiring. It’s about winning the human race.

Isn’t this what much of horse racing is about? Or trying to say in its communications? And if not, why not? Think about it.

Also think whether horse racing is viewed today by advertisers as an old one-dimensional pastime or something with the potential to reach a new and younger generation. Every business wants everything younger. (There’s nothing like stating the obvious).


Telling- and the bells are tolling- is that one of the main advertisers on a sports and racing radio station in Melbourne is, well, a funeral home. Hardly a magnet for other advertisers. One would again need the presentation skills of that ad man Don Draper to convince advertisers that horse racing is alive and awake. That there’s still life in those old legs.


This is not to say that changing mind sets is impossible. But first, horse racing must shake off the mothballs and slapping on the Old Spice. Dad bathed in that stuff.

This is 2019 and it’s a world in change. It’s full of weird surprises where one has to wonder what’s real and what’s not.

In especially the Eighties in Hong Kong, horse racing was closely tied to winning and the celebratory dinners that followed.

Big spending cognac brands like Hennessy, and Martell selling “aspiration” joined “the racing club” with television commercials where “Hey, Big Spender” played in the background while rich, happy looking men clinked glasses and guzzled premium brand cognacs with nightclub hostesses joining in the celebrations. It worked wonderfully. For that time. It captured Hong Kong nightlife. For that time. But times change.

Like the newspaper, upmarket magazines and everything else that has been gobbled up by the social media genie, the golden days of the Mad Men of advertising and million dollar budgets are long gone.

Advertising is desperately trying to reinvent itself at a time when Instagram, especially, and other online mediums have become homes for consumer generated content.


Consumer generated content. If one thinks about it, this might be the most effective advertising around- consumers sharing information and The New with other consumers. For free. And immediately. It’s almost as good as word of mouth advertising.

This need to reinvent as to how messages are presented to that big old world outside and also potential advertisers looking for something new to refresh their brands just might be a wake up call for horse racing to remove the blinkers and prove an attractive new alternative- but with the right makeover. Nothing stays the same.

A few weeks ago, an advertiser, talking about the current environment and consumer trends and demands, asked a slew of questions about horse racing: Who are horse racing’s KOLS- Key Opinion Leaders? Does horse racing have celebrity endorsements? Paris Jackson, once or still a vegan, being the celebrity guest at the Melbourne Cup, doesn’t count.

What are the ratio of females versus males involved in horse racing? Who is there with on course advertising to the female race goer?

The HKJC has the cosmetics brand SaSa who work brilliantly with the Club for SaSa Ladies Day. It’s more than “naming rights”. It’s a very holistic approach to enhancing the total on course experience. And also owning it.


Another very good example of smart sponsorship of marketing their product at Sha Tin racetrack is BMW. With its brand ambassador- Actor Donny Yen- being actively involved in inter-acting with race goers, it’s all about a different kind of horsepower.

There were other questions: Who DOES endorse horse racing? How does horse racing use social media? What are the mediums for the message (s)? What are the messages?

Tough questions, but there are answers. What’s needed are not Noddy, Big Ears and more decisions by committee. There have been enough of those.

Needed are experienced and creative marketers with the presentation skills and ability to think on their feet to provide these answers- and get results that move everything forward.

It’s really not that hard.

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