By Hans Ebert
Could it really be happening? Might this actually be good for the perception and future of horse racing? Could this separate the wheat from the chaff? Freedom of speech aside, might this help rein in the negativity? Could this see the creative envelope being pushed when it comes to marketing the sport to a younger and new customer demographic? For all the talk of “customer engagement”, could this open the minds of hardcore racing executives to how social media can be a powerful marketing tool and not 140 words or less of clutter and Corporate Speak ignored by many? Could this help racing clubs understand that insular thinking only leads to navel gazing and nothing to do with expanding their current customer base- and attracting new players like sponsors with strong databases to the sport?
A media analyst with a major music company and head of one of the biggest international social media agencies were sharing their thoughts with us regarding digital marketing, how to possibly reach millennials, and, mainly, the present and future of Twitter- and how, according to their numbers and customer research, its popularity is on the wane- and how, as a marketing tool, this social media platform has become clutter that is either ignored or else “liked” and “retweeted” almost outta habit. It’s click bait.
If true- and why not?- it’s certain to cause celebration amongst some we know in horse racing who refuse to “engage” or be part of the racing twitterverse, which, to them, is rampant with “bottom feeders”. Maybe. We just have a problem with those who don’t know the difference between “you’re” and “your”, the really bad grammar, the transparent serial self-promoters, and the roaring silence when it comes to creativity. Throw in the fawning jockey groupies, the politics, the roadblocks and unblocked, and the regular army of alarmists and conspiracy theorists, something seemingly very much in the DNA of the Australian racing industry. It’s not a good look to other racing jurisdictions on the outside looking in. Even if true, the constant updates on all things negative paints an extremely off-putting picture of the sport. Those who might think they’re saving horse racing are actually stabbing it with their steely knives and trying to kill the beast- and the hand that feeds them.
Whatever happened to marketing the FUN of horse racing? The Cobalt Blues has become more tedious than In A Gadda Da Vida. It’s horse racing’s Pokeman Go, but not going anywhere. And, let’s face it, whoever “wins”, who’s the big loser? Horse racing. After the final legal decisions have been handed down, what happens next to Fawlty Towers and its bumbling Basils? Where’s all this angst and U-turns and memory lapses and legal technicalities leading to, Manuel?
For almost two years, we have followed all the trials and tribulations tweeted about horse racing from the land down under. And with new horse operas opening for public consumption almost every other day, there have been many trials and tribulations with the same old twitterers jumping into the fray. But, like the boy who cried wolf, they’ve become tiresome. Their bark has lost any bite it might have had. It’s become turgid déjà vu. After all, how many ways can you say the same thing? And how many versions of the same story can one read before boredom takes over, and there’s the realisation that the racing world has inherited another useless addiction?
Again, none of this does anything positive for the sport. It’s a turn-off to many. It’s a barrier to expanding that customer base- and attracting forward-thinking new sponsors capable of looking outside the square and re-looking at, for example, the return on interest in “naming rights”. How, for example, can these “naming rights” work on social media? Have these “naming rights” ever made their appearance on social media- visually- and not hidden among those 140 words or less that’s basically a press release?
Is horse racing using social media as an effective and creative marketing tool, or just going through the motions, and placing it in the hands of gremlins? Again, it’s something racing clubs can learn about from the entertainment industry: how to make the sport part of this bigger industry constantly growing and attracting new sponsors and new business partners as new products come on stream. It’s also about being a likeable product, and no doubt why battered and bruised Apple CEO Tim Cook recently appeared with Pharrell Williams on the hugely popular Carpool Karaoke series with its millions of views on YouTube to market the launch of the iPhone 7. For a few minutes, that appearance makes Tim Cook look less of a droid.
Sure, it’s good to have longtime and loyal business partners, but convincing them that their role needs to evolve must come into play. And with the death of the mainstream media, there’s a need to show them how being associated with horse racing, and the ways in which the sport uses social media, can be a creative and cost-effective delivery platform for their businesses. The term cost-effective. Think about it. And for this to happen, there’s a need for racing clubs to up their game in order to stop lethargy and creative constipation setting in.
As a marketing tool, some are manipulative masters at using Twitter and other forms of social media to stay relevant when they have no new product to market, or know they have to constantly reinvent themselves. But these are mainly celebrities with huge fan bases – Kanye, his wife and in-laws- the Kardashians and Jenners- and the teams behind brands- and they’re safely protected brands-Taylor Swift, Beyoncé, Rihanna etc.
Twitter is the equivalent of what were once known as fan clubs. Or newspapers. Frankly, social media is everything old made to look new again- and available to everyone in a nanu second. Remember slam books? What else is Facebook? And isn’t YouTube the new MTV?
The music industry knows all the tricks of the trade about social media because it’s part of technology, and music companies today have been forced to work with technology companies to sell and promote music through streaming and downloads, and whatever pops up tomorrow that’s embraced by music fans.
This unholy alliance happened when the ghost of Napster came along and bit them on their smug collective asses. Until then, their one “strategy” was to sue. But while busy trying to sue this and that online startup, music fans created their own rules- the most important one being that there are no laws in the online world- and the lunatics took over the asylum.
Music companies were caught with their pants down and are now “making nice” with music fans to stay in the game with the occasional false bluster to show they still have some control. But the gig is up as their time has come and gone. The days of the old school music executive died with disco and them foolishly thinking labels like Death Row Records and rappers were pushovers. Who’s running the music and entertainment industries today? And owns a basketball team, a management company, a streaming service and a trophy wife? The Jewish mafia that controlled the music industry has either died or is now working for those whose street smarts were underestimated. A paradigm shift has happened. And it’s far-reaching.
Meanwhile, what is the role of social media- and especially Twitter- in the marketing of horse racing, other than being a source for news and a corporate press release? Even with all the talk of Google Search and the reason for the importance of hashtags, what’s the point when the content is almost always boring boring boring? Most of the time, it’s totally irrelevant. It’s seldom even seen. Why would a consumer wish to find something that’s uninteresting? Or, IF finally found, is irrelevant to them? Where and what’s the hook? What’s in it for them?
Much of this content isn’t being created by genuine marketeers. It’s bland, predictable fluff churned out by those in horse racing or racing clubs with their own blinkered mindsets, or else hoodwinked by all the advice of overnight “social media agencies” and “social media experts” who have popped up like zits and sell guesswork. These are usually today’s version of research companies. Remember their qualitative and quantitative findings which were almost always skewed towards what the clients wanted to hear? It was expensive bullshit. It still is as it’s a herd mentality at work. Whatever happened to individual thinking? Where and how does the customer fit in?
Again, it’s horse racing being behind the eight-ball and blindly following without stopping to think that there’s a world of difference between a sport that’s still to attract a younger or new generation of racing fans, and a shrewd manipulator of social media like a Kanye West, a Taylor Swift, or The Donald.
There’s then Twitter itself and its numbers-driven business model that allows so many to sell followers in the thousands on its own platform. How on earth can this provide clients with an accurate picture of the popularity of the medium when a totally unknown rapper- and it’s almost always rappers- have over a hundred thousand followers? How? Why? Because Twitter is a business with shareholders and, at the moment, a creaky bottom line. There’s then been the recent resignations of some of its very best key executives. One has to ask the obvious: Why?
As always, content is king. And unless and until those marketing racing become more creative in how the sport is marketed through vines and gifs, great visuals, consumer generated content, and FUN infotainment, it will be the same old same olds “engaging” with each other in 140 words or less of vapid chatter “liked” by the same 10-14 people. Big deal.
Others, meanwhile, will become far more selective as to who they allow in to view their accounts. Either that, or else they will just close their accounts as Twitter, like Facebook, is starting to look tired, old and irrelevant. And the latter has definitely started to happen with the exodus to Instagram and Snapchat in full swing and the ‘live’ streaming of EVERY event soon available on every online delivery platform.
For racing, and those who manage the sport- those who manage it with a vision and an inquisitive mind and not too proud to learn from other industries- this can result in building new teams with fresh, original thinking that showcases horse racing in a new lifestyle “format” and who are capable of working with business partners and utilising their data bases for a win-win result. This is a step in the right direction instead of thinking those with limited abilities will suddenly become what they can never be and have the wherewithal to open new doors without getting in the way of progress. Real progress, Igor.