The Victoria Racing Club (VRC) has built the 155-year-old Melbourne Cup Carnival into an event that attracts more than 320,000 visitors each year from all parts of the globe. It's an event that has become woven into the Australian identity and a brand recognised across the world.
Looking at the marketing success of the Carnival, its success appears to have stemmed from three elements: the sport of racing, the social element and the fashion of the races.
They’re the elements that were there at the beginning and remain today. We spoke with Victoria Racing Club chief executive officer, Simon Love, and looked at how the Melbourne Cup Carnival has grown into a flagship event and the lessons we can learn from their marketing approach.
In a bid to “woo more women to the races," the Victoria Racing Club held their first Fashions on the Field event at the Melbourne Cup in 1962.
More than five decades on, fashion and Spring Racing are inseparable.
“Myer Fashions on the Field is the largest outdoor fashion competition in the world, which sees women, men, milliners and fashion designers compete for illustrious titles, and hundreds of thousands of dollars in prizes,” says Victoria Racing Club Chief Executive, Simon Love.
Together, Fashions on the Field and the Carnival were responsible for 61,000 dresses, 75,000 hats and headpieces and 59,000 shoes being sold on average last year.
It’s also helped build decades-long partnerships with brands like Myer and has spotlighted the Carnival as a global fashion event – along with the global coverage that has drawn in international guests.
The Melbourne Cup's global reputation and brands' and celebrities' desire to attend stem from its formidable challenge for competitors.
The handicap of the Cup, where weights are added to horses to even out race entrants, and its lengthy distance have arguably made it one of the most demanding Group 1 races; it’s been won by a favourite around one in five times.. This differentiation from other races in the Australian market made the Melbourne Cup the one to win for the best thoroughbreds, but the physical test isn't its only draw.
By establishing a point of difference – something that heightens the excitement of the product and sets it apart from competitors – the VRC has created its own competitive advantage. Its own way of standing out in an industry that’s made up of more than 2,500 race meetings across the country.
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Find the right partners
In 1985, the VRC opened up brand sponsorship for naming rights of the race, with Carlton & United Brewery taking up the mantle originally.
The Melbourne Cup became the first million-dollar race in the country, again setting it apart from other local races. It also catapulted the Melbourne Cup into the top tier of the international big leagues. Within a decade, the VRC invited overseas competitors to enter the Cup for the first time and officially entering the race onto the world stage.
Now, the Melbourne Cup is one of the wealthiest races in the world at $6.2 million – bumped up from $5 million by its sponsorship from Emirates – and is the richest handicap race globally.
The careful positioning the VRC created for the race has led the Melbourne Cup to be the one to win for the best thoroughbreds across the world. But it’s not resting on it’s laurels – the VRC states in their mission statement that developing Flemington and the Melbourne Cup Carnival into a world-class racing and entertainment venue is of fundamental importance.
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The experience provided by the club is reviewed each year to ensure consistent growth and take into consideration changing expectations from visitors.
“In order to encourage future growth and development, the VRC undertakes a comprehensive and robust customer research study to identify areas for improvement and changes in customer attitudes or behaviours.
“This complements a customer segmentation model, which helps the VRC effectively plan the raceday experience and to tailor products and communication to each audience.”
A race for generations
The Melbourne Cup has been shaped by its audience, and their level of engagement has kept the event and brand strong for generations. For Simon, it all comes down to getting involved with the community.
“Although the Melbourne Cup Carnival is perhaps best known for its spectacular racing and glamorous fashions, it is an event that has strong undertones of community engagement and participation,” he says.
“Embedded in Australian culture, it is able to reach a diverse audience and secure its eminence as a Carnival for all.”
The strategic approach to building their brand has not only ensured they maximised their potential audience capacity, but has given the Melbourne Cup Carnival a coherent marketing direction for more than 150 years.
It’s solidified its Aussie significance alongside kangaroos, the Harbour Bridge and Don Bradman.