Saturday night millions watched on NBC as Orb overcame a very muddy track to win the Run For the Roses for Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaghey. The horse came from deep in the pack over the final quarter mile for the legendary win, and set himself and his owners up for two weeks of hype before the second leg of the Triple Crown, The Preakness Stakes comes along.
The Kentucky Derby remains the horse racing industry’s shining moment for the casual fan, and the kickoff to what the National Thoroughbred Racing Association hopes is a landmark summer that could lead through the Belmont stakes, into a long summer at parks across the country, and then to the Breeder’s Cup in California. Lots of ups and downs, millions gambled legally, and another attempt to continue to revive a business which has seen better days but us fighting to rebound with a new legion of fans.
One of those ways is to leverage its biggest windows with brands that may not have activated in the space for very long, and we saw that on Saturday, when Louisville based YUM! Brands took the presenting sponsor and lots of exposure to Churchill Downs. Now the YUM! brands…KFC, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut and others, spend millions in brand activation against sports over the course of the year, and at first glance, the Derby may have been seen as another engagement point, albeit with a slightly different audience that may tune in for the NBA or NFL or college football. However this was not really what the YUM! partnership for the Derby appeared to be about.
The signage in some places mentioned the company’s consumer brands, but the primary placement, including on each horse, was for YUM! itself. The commercial spots during the race were about the company and its global franchises, not chalupas or slices of pizza. It was a call to action for corporate, not consumer. Why?
First, the support of the Derby, like the money spent on other projects involving sport and consumers around Louisville, helps solidify the company as good public citizens. Big time sports come to Louisville, YUM! supports and helps grow the tradition. Second, the Derby audience is different than most other events one of the YUM! companies would support. It is a little older, a little more global, and one which the dollar figures spent on the activity in gambling, are right up front. Maybe this audience is one that looks more to business buys than a traditional sports audience. So tell then your story. There was no direct pitch to come buy a franchise, but the message time and again became pretty clear. Here is what we are, here is who we are, here are out global faces that run our business, we are growing and maybe…you want to find out more.
Chances are most tuning in knew Stella Artois at least a little, and know what Longines is. But YUM? Maybe not. So the parent company used the opportunity not to sell tacos, but to sell itself. It was an interesting play in corporate identity rarely seen on a big stage. Not overt but clearly targeted to raise awareness not as much for thick crust or wings, but for selling a franchise or two. Will it pay off? Hard to tell as there was not a collection point of data, at least publicly, and there was no place to drive interest either in signage or in broadcast. Regardless YUM! showed they are good corporate citizens for Louisville with a desire to grow even bigger than they are, and they found an interesting audience to try and tell their story to.