Lest you think this is a sporting commentary, the Investec Festival at Epsom, embracing both the Oaks and the Derby, is as much about horseracing as it is about branding. It matters not where you are perched, (Cheryl and I are lucky enough to be the guests of the sponsors and the Epsom stewards,) an excellent vantage point on these big days will set you back at least £55 (+-R1,100) and a bit more the higher up the stands you go.
The track is festooned with flags and banners proclaiming the key brand proposition that this is not only the home of the world's oldest and England's most famous horserace, but it is also the "property" of the home-grown South African banking institution, which delights in the name "Investec", wherever you look. Founded by a bunch of boys from Benoni, like Princess Charlene of Monaco and Charlize Theron, the guys from the East Rand have certainly left their stamp on the world.
Investec, a comparatively young and relatively small player by English standards in the banking sector, has pounced on three of England's most significant branding opportunities, and their zebra black and white is everywhere in evidence, whether at the home of the Derby, the birthplace of cricket or the cauldron of the game invented by William Webb Ellis. You've got to give it to their marketing boys: they've made a proper meal of these events; playing on the a heritage theme with a 236 year tradition, the lobbies and hallways of the grandstands and the precincts of the parade are everywhere girded with reminders of the history of these Downs, where racing was first staged in 1661.
The differentiating point between cricket and rugby on the one hand, and racing on the other, is that in our sport, there's a half hour gap between contests; here's the chance to get to know your fellow attendees, particularly the old codger whose top hat and tails betray his age; after a couple of quaffs of Pol Roger, you soon find out he was on first name terms with the 16th Earl Of Derby, who passed on almost as long ago as W.G.Grace. It is said that the Oaks (for 3 year old fillies) was actually initiated in 1779, a year before the Derby, and that its success led to a decision to introduce another event for colts and fillies. The name "Derby" came about through the favourable flip of a coin: heads for Derby, tails for the Earl's great friend, Sir Charles Bunbury. If the coin had fallen the other way, we'd have been attending the "Bunbury" all these years.
Heritage marketing aside, the merchandising strategy is equally impressive, with a shop that heaves with fans wanting a little overpriced piece of the Derby. I'm not sure I'll ever get to use the odds and ends we stuff into our packets, but dammit, I have them and you probably don't! In his determination to pay tribute to the growing influence of second-screen media, the old man with the well-worn rim on his top hat, was nose down at times in his Samsung, and while I suspect he was attempting to connect with his wife, he was baffled that he kept talking to someone at a call centre in Mumbai.
The organisers have also nailed the experiential side of the marketing equation; even the "drinks breaks" between races are sponsored, with special product offers available either "compliments of the chef", alternatively for a limited time at a special price, and even more in the tea session in association with another well-known beverage. These messages are so powerful, you find patrons wandering off in search of a cup of this and a glass of that: they don't have to go far, the champagne garden and the pop-up tea houses are in the lee of the grandstands. I can't of course speak for those in the infield, close on 100,000 of them, but from where I was sitting, they seemed to be having a whale of a time.