By Hans Ebert

James Mathers, a reoccurring character and friend from those days when Racingbitch ran free and shone a bright light on the goofballs in charge of horse racing, especially the Australian racing industry going through its own TVN Game Of Thrones, asked on Twitter yesterday what can be done to attract more people to the races. Not pubs. But actually on-course.

After all, Winx is now part of a glorious past. And like the finality of a divorce, it’s about moving on. But how? Where? With what bullets?

To many in Oz, it’s still all about the horse and the fearless gladiators who ride them. That’s fine. Horse racing is part of Australian culture. Australian lifestyle. Again, more than fine. But how horse racing is accepted or enjoyed is very different in Hong Kong- Hong Kong where no one is born to ride, where there are no farms stabled with horses, where the appreciation of the horse is not a priority.

Horse racing in Hong Kong is very different to horse racing in Japan where it’s all about nationalistic pride for the country’s super horses and “idol jockeys”, and which is very different to how it works in South Africa which is different to horses racing in the US on lasix etc.

Like music, some were brought up on the Blues and Jazz whereas millions more grew up on Rock’n Roll. It’s all music. But different. Same with horse racing.

In some countries it’s a priority. In others, like Hong Kong, it’s a pastime available twice a week at two very different racecourses.

Who does horse racing in Hong Kong attract? Of course, those already sold on the product. That so-called “hardcore” market. This is also an ageing market. Sorry, but we can’t all be Peter Pan. Or Paul Rudd. Face it.

What racing clubs around the world should realise in 2019 is having more balance. Where, like Ebony and Ivory, these more experienced and mature racing enthusiasts can “live in harmony”, and perhaps even impart their knowledge with those standing on the sidelines wanting to learn how to join, but with no one to really explain how. There appears to be a failure to communicate. A generation gap. Make an offer, and there’s every possibility that it will be refused, Don Corleone.

At Happy Valley racecourse, the HKJC’s Happy Wednesday brand includes the Beer Garden. It’s like a kindergarten or primary school of horse racing.

It’s where newbies can see the horses, the riders up close and personal while interacting with their own age group and taking in the ‘live’ music in between the races. Not after the races which creates a division within the ranks, but making music part and parcel of attending a Happy Wednesday.

Away from the Beer Garden is the club Adrenaline, the secondary school of horse racing where there’s a more knowledgeable though still young customer group who know that the same horse doesn’t run in every race and that the jockeys don’t own the horses they ride. Yes, really.

At Adrenaline, in between the ‘live’ music, a buffet dinner and drinks is the time to glance at the odds and make decisions on who might be the winner.

It’s kinda like homework before deciding if it’s worth their while to “graduate” to university and then college at the racetrack in Sha Tin and play with the big boys and girls.

This decision is totally up to the wants and needs of those who come racing usually with no preconceived ideas of what to expect.

They’re there, first and foremost, to have a fun evening with friends. It’s not an excuse to get legless. It’s a much-needed mid-week break. But, at least, they’ve been attracted enough to come racing and see what it’s all about.

It’s a good starting point in a city where many are spoiled for choice. With hip new areas opening up comprising restaurants, bars, more and more art galleries and community-driven activities like bloc parties created by this new generation of entrepreneurs, this is a very different Hong Kong to 5-6 years ago when these Happy Wednesday nights were first launched.

There’s now far more competition for regular visits from especially that 28-40 age group. Still, many make the time to come racing. If it’s Wednesday, it’s Happy Wednesday time.

What made them make this decision? How did they hear about a Happy Wednesday? More importantly, as when with ad agency DDB and working on the extremely savvy McDonald’s business, what’s in place to ensure repeat visits? That Refresh button must be ready to be pressed BEFORE there’s any signs of a downward spiral.

As for McDonald’s, their internal ethos to staff was based on the QSCV mantra- Quality, Service, Cleanliness and Value. McDonald’s made staff feel important. They were rewarded for the store with the most transaction counts, for the best service, cleanliness and offering customers value. And value in any business is an intangible.

For us in advertising and marketing, what McDonald’s demanded was a strategy based on showing “Food, Folks and Fun” in every piece of communication. This included the packaging.

These, and working with partners like Disney, were ingredients for success. Nothing was left to chance. Every television commercial produced needed those three F’s. So did all POS materials. It was a disciplined tick box.

It’s something those of us who attended Hamburger University in Oakbrook and received a Degree in French Fries or Shakes etc and which we might have thought daft at the time, use regularly in whatever we’re working on today.

This discipline has stayed with us. It’s not about wearing blinkers. It’s about having a very strong “backend” to support progress.

Unless having been there, it’s tough to understand. But once you have, it stays with you whether marketing McDonald’s, music, and any consumer product. Even horse racing.

Where this becomes difficult and why the horse racing industry cannot attract good, experienced creative talent from other industries to offer them a different perspective on the marketing of their product is coming up against second hand thinking.

To the creative person, this is an anathema. It’s like being cut off at the knees. There’s the feeling that what’s not needed are those able to press that Refresh button.

Instead, what’s needed are good little Oompah Loompah order takers with the takeaway being that the priority is turnover.

Nothing wrong about this as running a horse racing club is a business and this pays for everything else. But why then the pretence of talking about trying to understand and attract today’s consumer- those consumers that are horse racing’s present and future?

Sure, they’re spoilt for choice, believe everything out there is for free and are not that interested in looking at what’s behind the green door. But that’s the challenge. It’s what brings about change.

The generation before them took on the major music companies when they weren’t looking and changed the music industry forever. Changed the business model- a business model that continues to be tinkered with as there’s not much money for anyone. Not when the genie has escaped and made everything available for free.

This is what one doubts many racing executives understand. That Django is unchained and he can’t be tamed. It’s a very different world out there. What worked then doesn’t work now.

In horse racing, hearing about activities still marketed as “fashions on the field” is a reminder of something heard two decades ago. It sounds old and is probably IS old. “Fashions On The Field” hardly screams out Today or Kendall Jenner. It whimpers Babs Streisand.

Racing executives getting involved in the creative product and marketing almost always short circuits new thinking. But if offering new customer groups with the best possible racing product combined with entertainment and edutainment to make horse racing attractive and relevant to those dastardly non believers is not important, well then, just regurgitate everything that’s come before.

Watch how long it takes for everything to grind to a halt with no roaring comeback like a Tiger in sight.

#horseracing #HKracing #marketing #creativity #HappyWednesdayHK #McDonalds #HansEbert #music #edutainment #Tiger