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HAPPINESS, SASSINESS AND THE INEVITABLE UGLINESS…

Updated: Apr 21



There was no magic formula involved. If there was a ‘strategy’, it was to give everyone their own space to have fun and for them to use it in ways that suited them best.


It was about creating a real consumer friendly get together for young people and not another tossed corporate salad of staid and stiff croutons like some cardboard cutout function at a five star hotel built around pretence.



I was speaking with a journalist from the US who wanted to know how Happy Wednesday at Happy Valley in Hong Kong came together, became a brand and very much a game changer in the world of horse racing, something not exactly known for fun except for the fun of winning money or else being around those who worshipped the great god of wealth.



At the time, I was hanging in there at EMI Music, the home of the Beatles. There had been a very quick and well timed corporate coup d’etat and our global Chairman and Co-Chairman had been locked out of their offices.


The keys to the kingdom were given to new owners Terra Firma, the private equity company owned by the fatuous fat boy Guy Hands, below.



The only experience Guy Hands had in music was that he enjoyed karaoke and loved being a celebrity groupie. Other than that, the business interests of Terra Firma were acquiring toilets on the autobahn and buying up nursing homes in Britain.


So in around 2012 when Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges, the head of the Hong Kong Jockey Club, asked Hans Llewelyn-Ebert whether he might be interested in trying to bring something to attract a younger audience to the races and using an empty beer garden available at Happy Valley and, for whatever reason, labelled Sassy Wednesday, one knew there were opportunities to be had.


There, behold, was my own field of dreams where once seemed to house escorts from Macau.



Here was an interesting career stop-gap measure in sync with the time to leave EMI and 

also not bothering to try and make things work out with my partner at the time who didn’t want to, well, work, didn’t like how Chinese chewed it their food and had the gypsy in her Danish soul. She needed money and saw marriage as a piece of paper.


It was time to play for time and the offer from the HKJC provided this before returning to Universal Music and running its regional office in Asia. But plans change.


Looking back to look forward, Winfried and I learned much from our twelve years building this brand and getting to know how different we each other are- and how this can be a good thing.


For myself, it was to never try and tell that 19-28 primarily female customer what to do at the races, especially when we in a racing club were part of something considered old school and uncool and trying desperately to look young.


Those Happy Wednesday regulars could see fake from shake and had questions like whether “the little guys wearing tacky looking blouses owned the horses they rode” and if the horses didn’t get tired racing every half hour.


They couldn’t have cared less about reading the totalisator board or listening to tips and learning about different bet types


Most of the girls had their twenty dollars on the most handsome looking horse and jockey Joao Moreira. They found him to be cute and friendly and was exotically Brazilian. 



Every customer had their own strategies and had the freedom of creating their own space to have fun with like minded people. 




The HKJC Happy Wednesday marketing police were nice enough people as all this was so new to them- especially they knew nothing about marketing.


With all my years in advertising, especially working on the McDonald’s business and having a great mentor at ad agency DDB, I saw glaring mistakes in even the organisation chart, where there wasn’t a head of creative to produce strategic content.


Maybe this role of creative Poohbah was seen to be the role Winfried as he appeared to be the HKJC king with the Oompah Loompahs cowering in fear around him.



Arriving at the point of actual product planning was a bit of a free-for-all of brain storming session and under the responsibility of -wait for it- the Director of Wagering- Richard Cheung. 



He didn’t really care about marketing as long as I didn’t get involved in merchandise which he liked to play with and was his little hobby and with the strict rule of not say anything about the cuisine nor the catering.


I never knew what that was about.


At least he was honest enough to admit that he didn’t know marketing or creative and somehow inherited these roles.


Anything I could do to take on these jobs would be appreciated. He just wanted the time to make his bets on race day- the only person in the HKJC with the permission to place bets.


As for Happy Wednesday, I did what I believed was correct- themed nights, good ‘live’ music, especially the night we brought out the ABBA tribute group BABBA from Australia and have them meet Bjorn from the legendary Swedish group, competitions, and everyone coming together to create a fun international night of horse racing.




Happy Wednesday became the most popular mid week jumping off point for Young International Hong Kong and tourists to the city who wanted to be part of this global pot pourri.


We were so ahead of the curve, it was a straight line and all about giving people the space to be themselves- to be space cowboys and have space oddities.




Everything lasted for as long as I knew it would and should last because the marketing of horse racing has its statute of limitations.


The creative work starts and ends with an ad withe celebratory victory shot and all the videos seem to have soundtracks from horror movies intercut with happy winning people hugging each other.


For myself, there were no international awards to be won churning out mundane work like this.

Boredom had set in and having dinner and listening to the woes of being the $24 million CEO of the HKJC had me astral travelling.


I was reminded why, when in advertising and the music industry, we kept our distance from horse racing: Most of the people were boring and I knew that ‘live’ streaming was going to change almost everything in the post pandemic world.


The Fat Lady had sung and the happiness of the Beer Garden and those fun Adrenaline nights had lost the good vibes.


Internal politics had set in, the story of the emperor’s new robes were being played over and over again, I was receiving messages to not act like a “spurned lover and spoil things for everyone”.


I couldn’t be trusted by many because of my friendship with Vito Corleone.



I had made my getaway plans two years before they became official, and my exit made way for the HKJC CEO to do The Hustle and create his own vision for everything that has popped up like zits over the past year.


At least, when he goes down, the CEO will go down with the ship and the gurgler that is its “humongous” world pool.


Me, I’ve got a book out of those Happy Wednesday years.


Maybe even a movie…



 


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