By Hans Ebert

It’s probably the ad man in me. Though enjoying having a bet and being friends with a few in horse racing, what’s almost been my “life’s work” has been to try and understand why this pastime of mine has always been dismissed with such disdain by every woman with whom I have lived. None have been lacking in light bulbs upstairs. Still, to them, horse racing was always shrugged off as a “mug’s game” attracting the “wrong crowd.” The ex wife would have been correct about the pack with who I was once hanging out.

When following the brilliant “Mad Men” television series with its backdrop being the early days of advertising agencies in America , it was hoped that the central character, ad man Don Draper- part street smart charmer and charlatan, part opportunist with an innate ability to read the wants and needs of people and use these in his presentations to clients and his ad campaigns, might make a pitch for a racing club.

One hoped that there might be an episode where he gave to those unfamiliar with horse racing the emotional attachment he was able to do for the Polaroid Carousel. He never did.

Giving any product some emotional attachment has always been part of a career in advertising, music and marketing any product. This includes the world of horse racing.

Today, in horse racing, Frankie Dettori is, quite rightly, in the zone. It’s his own rarefied zone comprising superb riding talent, amazing survival instincts, a fascinating back story, immense charisma and showmanship very much missing in horse racing.

Has all this been used to market horse racing or market Frankie Dettori? There’s a huge difference.

There been nothing except for his now well-documented life story and, more recently, his wonderful partnership with the brilliant Enable.

Theirs is a great story- but mainly for horse racing fans. But how much further has this story- and every movie made about horse racing- travelled?

Plus, one person can never carry the weight of an entire industry on their shoulders.

Football has a cast of Instagram friendly stars led by Ronaldo, Messi, Coutinho, Lukebakio etc etc.

Cricket has Steve Smith, Virat Kohli, Jofra Archer, Rishabh Pant and others.

Tennis has Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, Serena and a number of prodigious young talent waiting in the wings.

For horse racing not to be pigeonholed as a one trick pony (there nothing like mixing one’s metaphors), it needs an “assembly cast”- and with strong marketing ammunition.

Horse racing as a sport has never been clearly defined. So how can its stars be appreciated? The great Dr Hunter S Thompson put into words how he felt about the Kentucky Derby, but whether this did horse racing any favours is debatable.

The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved

Horse racing has got to be seen as much more than a real life version of director Joe Pytka’s brilliant, but commercially unsuccessful movie, “Let It Ride” about two down-on-their-luck characters always dreaming of winning that big one at the races.

At least from a marketing perspective, and looking at racing in Hong Kong, Zac Purton, Joao Moreira, Douglas Whyte and Hannah Schofield are all “good for racing”. It’s about where and how and with which brands they can be associated to best market horse racing to those outside the box.

Some will disagree, and that’s fine, but for me, these names are part of this “assembly cast” mentioned earlier. Why?

Each have very different personalities, appeal to different consumer groups and each have that certain something to attract a variety of sponsors.

Hannah Schofield, who hosts Happy Wednesday’s Fashionistas series, being endorsed by a brand of cosmetics or a casual sports brand like Puma? Why not?

Sponsors/brands, whatever one might call them, have the ability to make horse racing more than what it is today, attract a far wider audience, and make it part of the big world of sports entertainment.

They each have that certain je ne sais quoi to bring in big global brands with the marketing dollars along with their databases, and teams offering creative chutzpah.

Horse racing needs these brands and everything they bring to the table. But first, it’s about making itself known. Getting that foot in the door to present what horse racing offers products.

It’s about horse racing doing the homework and strategising needed to bring these brands on side. Presenting them with solid reasons WHY they should look at the marketing potential of horse racing just as they might do football or Formula 1 or tennis or basketball or even, well, mixed martial arts.

Not being a “racing writer” and with interests and experience in the marketing of consumer-driven products, especially in the music industry, what’s obvious is that horse racing is not known for being creative in how it presents itself. Why? Perhaps there’s the feeling that it doesn’t need to be creative? That it’s all about turnover and how turnover is not reliant on marketing?

Everything needs clever and strategic and relevant marketing to make a product- and horse racing is a product- stand out from the buffet of leisure activities available out there today, 24/7 and competing for the same consumer dollar in a shaky global economy.

Are all racing clubs on the same page when it comes to understanding this? Depends on the market and where and how and when horse racing fits into one’s lifestyle.

Racing executives trying to become “Don Draper” and producing the creative product is a recipe for disaster. It’s been proven time and time again. Often, things go backwards.

Horse racing stays in that same old sandbox comprising Fashions On The Field, pony rides for the kids, nickel and dime giveaways, more recently, ‘live’ music- but after the races- and nothing to really shine a light on where to go to know more about the product- and for what reason.

How much longer can horse racing keep warming up dishes and serving up the same plate of nuked waffles to an audience that’s now at least twenty years older?

These ideas are boring, formulaic and irrelevant to those uninterested in horse racing because they don’t see anything in it for them.

If not into watching a horse race, because, just maybe, this “content” has never ever been presented effectively, and with the medium for the message lost in the shuffle of LOUDER voices competing for attention, they’re none the wiser. It’s not exactly top of mind awareness.

Perhaps it’s something exclusive to a city like Hong Kong, but there are “younger people”, predominantly females, who come racing as a casual social activity, especially on what’s known as a Happy Wednesday. They’re more Rihanna and Kendall Jenner fashionable than trying to be Mum who’s just been to a milliner. Happy Wednesday is not Ascot. It doesn’t want to be Ascot. Girls just wanna have fun.

This is a key reason why horse racing cannot continue to gallop off on its lonesome. It needs company in the form of good, experienced business partners- diverse business partners from other consumer-driven industries who, somehow, can complement and enhance the overall image of horse racing.

For example, consider strategic business partners like technology companies in order to bring about change and 5G speed to the wagering landscape.

Add to this app makers offering something new to those who suffer a migraine trying to work out all those numbers on the totalisator.

In this Instaworld of everything, it’s all about speed of connectivity and ease in communications.

Horse racing needs it, yes, but horse racing also provides technology companies with a very good platform to showcase its own specific product attributes.

There’s then the branding- branding to enhance the overall product. And here, racing clubs need to understand the wants and needs of other brands and to present what the horse racing product can offer them. There must be more than “naming rights”. In this day and age of competitive marketing, this is hardly a juicy carrot.

Look at all the ways once-boring old cricket has completely added more and more of everything in a very short period of time to make the sport far more than a five day Test series.

It’s brought in a colourful new generation of players, new technology in the area of the presentation of the sport to completely new audiences. Cricket is sexy today. Sexy sells.

Again, at least in Hong Kong, there was a time when every major big spending cognac brand led by Hennessy with its “Hey, Big Spender” theme, Remy Martin, Martell, who sponsored the Grand National and Courvoisier were major sponsors of horse racing.

Winning in horse racing equalled success and that indescribable thing known as “face”. These upmarket cognac brands very correctly associated themselves as being part and parcel of celebrations with friends (and female company) in large, upmarket clubs.

Those to whom this advertising was aimed knew how being successful, especially as a horse owner, led to many other business opportunities. New doors could open up.

Of course, time doesn’t wait for anyone and anything and time changes everything.

These upmarket brands associated with celebrating the joys of winning and with advertising always selling aspiration moved on to sponsoring other lifestyle products as a new breed of clients and marketing people came and went.

Horse racing? Well, horse racing has kinda been stabled in the same paddock.

Those knee deep in its history reminisce about the good old days of Fidel’s at Crown in Melbourne and Club BBoss in Kowloon and non-stop weeks of wine, women and song.

Reminiscing has its time and place. The danger is being stuck in the past and where it often gets too dark to see the future.

It happened with the music industry. This was when Rappers sold only to the urban market saw what else was going on, how they were being left out, and decided they wanted a bigger slice of the pie.

Almost overnight, Puff Daddy went from P Diddy to Sean Combes, started wearing designer brand suits and became a successful entrepreneur and businessman.

So did Jay Z. He bought a basketball team and was photographed with Warren Buffet. Today, he the king of the hill, wife Beyoncé is the queen, and the entertainment world’s power couple.

During their days of change, these Rappers associated themselves with high end brands of vodka and ushered in the age of mixologists and five star clubbing.

They reinvented themselves with a combined strategy in place. It was one for all and all for one. The music companies were locked out. They aligned themselves with basketball, sneakers, affluence, power and “Keeping Up With The Kardashians”.

Fast forward to today and where sports stars like Lewis Hamilton are part of this Hip Hop celebrity lifestyle in the fast lane. Lewis Hamilton is also a walking billboard. He’s a brilliant advertisement for Formula 1.

Could horsepower meet horsepower with Hugo Boss in the driver’s seat?

If Lewis Hamilton and Kimi Raikkomen can appear for Hugo Boss, why can’t Zac Purton and Joao Moreira?

In Hong Kong, The Zac Attack and The Magic Man are Rock stars. Again, it’s where horsepower can meet a different horsepower. There’s a unique marketing marriage and trade off.

However, before any of this can happen, it’s about horse racing presenting itself to especially global brands as an exciting new business partner with relevant software and hardware never before even known to them.

This is where there’s the need for a new mindset and an important adjunct to the organisation charts of racing clubs: Racing people focus on the racing product. It’s what they do best. The new “Don Drapers” of this world are independent thinkers. The more experienced ones know how to make something old look new again. And relevant. It’s the thrill of having a new challenge.

Using social media, for example, to get racing news out is fine. So is sharing interesting marketing news in Adweek and Adage which are read by those in the global advertising industry- decision makers who can see and seize new business and marketing opportunities.

For horse racing in Hong Kong, the opportunities can be enormous. It’s knowing where to look. And bringing in the various adventurous Indiana Joneses out there who will shine a bright light on where these are and how they will work.

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