Did Preakness go too far with edgy marketing effort?

Starting my freshman year at Towson University in 2000, the infield at Preakness was an event I attended annually for seven straight years, rain or shine.  In all those years I don’t believe I actually saw a horse race.  It was understood that once you walk through those gates with your supply of beer in tow, anything goes.  You were lucky if you could find a piece of land to tape off and call your own and by 10am you were witnessing very intoxicated people doing very stupid things. 

Last year, attendance dropped by about 30% from previous years and this drop was attributed to the banning of BYOB onto the infield at Pimlico.  I believe it is possible that attendance was down in part because people, like myself, said to themselves “I am not doing this again next year” after having witnessed full cans of beer flying through the air in every direction, hitting people in the head and face, and causing serious injuries.  This mature act is a result of the infamous “running of the urinals” http://www.brobible.com/story/13157473/10-best-running-urinals-videos-preakness-infield.

Needless to say, the infield at Preakness has never been a place with any taste or class so I am surprised at the controversy over the current advertising campaign “Get Your Preak On”.  This TV and Outdoor marketing campaign is aimed at young adults ages 21-34 and if you have ever attended the infield at Preakness I think you would say this is an entirely appropriate campaign.  The campaign is a twist on the saying “Get your freak on” and can be interpreted as being about dancing, such as in the 2001 Missy Elliot release or a more sexual interpretation.  The campaign drives people to the website developed for the event www.getyourpreakon.com featuring framed pictures of characters you click on to get more on how -or- with who they get their “Preak On”.  From this website you can also get more information about the live music, events such as corn hole tournaments and bikini contests, the mug club and you can buy tickets online. 

Nonetheless, some locals are livid. A Sun columnist, Kevin Cowherd, called it a royal embarrassment, playing on a sexually suggestive hip-hop song. “The whole campaign has to be one of the most pathetic marketing ploys ever devised,” he wrote. “And it shows you how desperate the Maryland Jockey Club is to restore the party atmosphere to the infield.”  Cowherd raged on, “And maybe this is the saddest thing of all: The new campaign appears to be working, at least according to the MJC. It says ticket sales are up as much as 25 percent over previous years. Its PreakOn website is getting more than 32,000 hits per week.”

Tom Chuckas, president of the Maryland Jockey Club, thinks it’s a winner – “It has made other people take notice. The majority of responses, particularly from the younger demographic have been very positive.”  Chuckas has received scant protest — a phone call and two e-mails — saying the campaign is “too edgy, too risqué” and “debasing” to the Preakness.  Debasing?  Really?  When it comes to the Preakness infield there was no dignity to begin with therefore this campaign has not debased anything.  It seems to me that the people who are offended are not who the campaign is targeted towards anyway. 

This campaign has done exactly what it set out to do – create buzz about the infield at Preakness, let the target demographic know that as the party may have been yanked last year it is back and better than ever in 2010, and ultimately sell more tickets and sell more beer.  We will see the final results after this weekend but if I was a betting woman I would put my money on a successful Preakness infield this year, and one that can be attributed to a well-targeted, well crafted advertising message.

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