I wrote this article which I had to publish on my personal branding website as part of an assignment for university, though the final copy was much shorter than this (haha damn those word limits!). However, I feel like this article can benefit those who work in the horse racing industry, as the public’s perception is an on-going battle, hence I wanted to share it with you all. Enjoy!
I am a bit of a rare sheep when it comes to horse racing, as unlike many horse racing owners, I was not brought up going to the races. However, my family did have a small interest in the Melbourne Cup each year. However, social media posts, in particular tweets, slamming racing are all too common these days, activity peaking around Saturdays and Melbourne Cup (the “Nup to the Cup” campaign) as a result of racing being broadcasted on free to air TV.
The deeper I got into racing, the clearer the divide became between fans and activists became, though the latter is winning these days. While racing in Western Australia is not as big as in the eastern states, racecourse attendance is down 17%, while memberships with Perth Racing have also decreased in the past 5 years (Perth Racing 2019). Nationally, nearly 50% of social media conversations had a negative sentiment over the 2016 Spring Carnival, while the number of people watching The Melbourne Cup, arguably Australia’s biggest race, decrease nearly 40% in the past 10 years (Welsh 2017).
To address this issue, we need to look at what the public is first concerned about. The public is concerned about what happens to those horses who do not make it to the track and what happens to them after they finish racing, the use of whips in races, the risks involved in racing (and injuries resulting in death) and overall animal welfare (Fox Koob 2019). The association between gambling and horse racing is also a negative.
So how can the industry change this perception?
The first step I believe to changing consumer behaviour is purely education. People are constantly surprised when I tell them how well looked after my racehorses are. They get a specialised diet, chiropractor, physiotherapist, new shoes every six weeks and are only in training/racing about half of the year. While we cannot exactly go around hitting the public with a whip to show it does not hurt or get them to shadow a trainer to prove their concerns wrong, there are other ways.
What “Horse Racing: Tell me how?” is a perfect example of how the public can be educated. They created a series of webinars (which you can view on YouTube), featuring racing experts, and situations to educate people about horse racing from purchase to getting to the races. Experts are credible sources of information and are, therefore, trusted more (Metzger and Flanagin 2013), making them perfect to change public perception.
Publish Insider Content
Currently, content published by racing Instagram accounts focusing purely on racing. Take “The Races WA” (@theraceswa), for example. Their Instagram feed is currently full of race results with the occasionally Fashions on the Field and race day post. While this appeals to their current target audience, it does not help change public perception. Instead, they may wish to publish posts such as what it takes to get a horse to the races, how jockeys prepare for the races and photos of horses off the track (e.g. breeding or competing in eventing). This is every racing-focused social media account’s job, not just the “Off The Track” accounts.
Transparency of the horse racing industry will lead to higher rates of trust from consumers (Zucal 2016), resulting in one in three consumers being more likely to start a positive conversation online (Sprout Social 2019). This should then help change public perception.
Lastly, we need to change the type of advertising. When horse racing is on the TV, literally every second advert is from a gambling company. This does not help that association between the two. Instead advertising needs to focus on the positives or suggest that people are missing out, tell them why they should get involved in a racehorse. We need to bottle the adrenaline of the race and emotion of the horse and then sell that to Australians.
The “Life Is Better With Horses” campaign has done this successful, however, my favourite advert ever is by Longines; it gives me goosebumps every time. The ad conveys the emotion perfectly through the music and monochrome colour palette. It is not about the racing itself but what feelings it brings. Watch the videos below to see for yourself!
While the horse racing industry is now recognising the public’s negative opinion, there is still a long way to go to change that perception. However, by implementing my three strategies, the industry may get there one day.