Whenever France Galop, the governing body of flat and steeplechase racing in France, produces a piece of communications to promote its product, it’s time for celebration as it restores the image of horse racing to where it should be- which is not lying down in the gutter with all four hooves in the air and surrounded by cheats, liars, the changing of goalposts, creative directors of integrity trying out new concepts, concepts that go haywire and which causes furious back peddling, and sharing at another meeting of Racing Anonymous where, instead of trying to find one’s higher power, everyone and their mutt is trying to actually be that higher power.
The advertising and marketing of France Galop has that magical je ne sais quoi- an intoxicating mélange of making the expected look unexpected, curing the lame and decrepit while capturing the excitement and heartbeat of a sport that has so much going for it, but is too often left looking lost and ordinaire in the hands of others.
Why, most likely, just as too many cooks tend to throw in the kitchen sink against the wall and pray like hell that something sticks, racing clubs tend to work on the creative content through safety in numbers via research companies, over-analysing, and all the fatuous navel gazing that’s part and parcel of corporate committee decisions, which means no one takes responsibility. And without responsibility, there’s no pride in ownership, no strategy and zero thought about two of the greatest rules of advertising: Appeal To Heart And Mind and Understand Your Consumer. Instead, it’s all about getting something out there that will appeal to the lowest common denominator. It’s like a Barry Manilow song where whoever has the final say in the creative product errs so much on the side of caution that what’s produced to showcase the sport is warmed up Campbell’s Sweetcorn Soup without the Dandy Andy Warhols. Not so the work of France Galop. The passion, the magnificent obsession to strive for perfection is there for all to see.
The term “cutting edge” might be a cliché, but everything produced by France Galop cuts through the clutter, deletes any sense of deva-vu, and it’s where producer, director, cameraman and excellent editing and sound engineering combine to create something so compelling that it appeals to non-racegoers as much as it does to racing fans. It makes believers of them because what they are seeing is so very real. It’s not over-researched and faked out puffery from phoney, cornball presenters talking in riddles and false tongues.
In its latest work, it captures brilliantly all the courage of Treve, the sheer focus of Thierry Jarnet, and before this main course, the great anticipation, the people, the horses, the style, that undeniable Gaellic flair. What we are seeing is a commercial for horse racing directed by a Francois Truffaut or a Jean Luc Goddard.
When in advertising, us Creative Directors strived to win our professions highest awards. Winning a Clio in New York was always nice for the CV and portfolio, but there was nothing like the honour and prestige of winning the Palm d’Or or a Gold Prix de Lion at the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity. Frankly, just being at the Palais des Festivals et des Congrès in Cannes for the advertising festival followed by the Film Awards was worth the trip as it humbled many of us to see the world’s best advertising in what was this magical, eclectic and often surreal place.
The best of the best almost always came from France and Japan- the French work always being beautifully art directed and filmed while the commercials from Japan came straight out of left field with their quirkiness and ability to turn any product on its head and look at it differently. Even horse racing.
Ask advertising people today which countries produce the best commercials for horse racing- and consistently- and their answer is always the same: France and Japan. Having said this, let’s not forget that in 2013, McCann Australia won a record five Grand Prix Awards for its work for their client Metro Trains. And so, it comes back to clients. Are France Galop and the Japanese Racing Association (JRA) “good clients” who support creativity and new ideas much like the courage and support given to taking the HKJC’s “Sassy Wednesday” product and giving it a new lease of life as Happy Wednesday.
Sure, advertising the racing product might not be as important as turnover, betting options and organisation charts, but it does impact attendance figures, it does attract advertisers and sponsors and new racing fans and, in very many ways, creating award winning work is worth millions to a racing club in the way of media coverage outside of the confines of the racing pages while instilling a sense of pride in ownership of a piece of work, and which in turn means taking responsibility and being fiercely protective over it and not allowing one’s baby to be turned into a bastard child when orphaned through join-the-dots creativity by committee. In other words, racing executives should manage what they know best. What they don’t know, leave this to those who do. Meddling has a nasty habit of turning a major into a minor and a two humped camel into a purple one that’s suddenly morphed into an eight-humped donkey marching alongside Shrek.
It’s obvious that France Galop might offer guidance, but whoever they work with on the creative product, they do so as a team- a well-oiled and inspired team that keeps creating new benchmarks for others to follow and, dare I say it, even compete with for creative excellence. It beats the hell out of rolling over and giving up like that cowardly lion. That’s certainly not what my great mentor in advertising- Keith Reinhard- taught me.