Audi's Super Bowl ad has been causing quite a stir both in print and on the web. The agency who wrote the ad (Venables Bell & Partners) and is marketing it after has done a good job in getting the message through. Outwardly, the ad is one which tells the consumer about a product, its features and benefits and does it in a funny way. In the bigger picture, the message is a bit more pronounced.
Cars are polluters, more than a battery thrown away, having your hot tub over 105 degrees, or using a plastic bag; one look over any major North American city confirms that. Audi makes a car, and it is greener than some, but it is still a car. Audi, knowing that just like everyone else does, says to the mainstream: "Yes we agree, things are crazy out there on the fringes, and being a driver you know damn well you pollute, but if you want to be socially and environmentally responsible while owning a car, here is one you might like."
It is a grown up message, for a grown up consumer.
I believe racing should take a similar stance in their message responding to concerns spread by organizations like PETA. PETA is a group that is not nuts, crazy, or whatever else we like to heap on them, but they are on the fringes. The general public is smart enough to know that. We should embrace who we are and make no bones about it, and show some confidence in the mainstream. PETA does not need to be responded to, the public does.
The public knows that a racehorse is not a pet, he is a racehorse. They are not stupid. They do not want them kept in a bubble because they know racing is a sport, they simply want them to be treated with some sensible respect.
I believe it is important to be honest and open and let folks know that we agree that we have some issues that need to be addressed. We need to let them know whipping is not something that we tolerate as is, and we are ever vigilant and constantly working to make it better. We need to convey that horse retirement policy is not there yet, but it is evolving, and we will make it better because we care. In terms of any kind of egregious abuse, we must let the mainstream know it is not swept under the rug. The general public in 2010 will not condone in any way the abuse of an animal. If it happens, we must share their outrage and respond by making the punishment swift, total and transparent: The person who abuses a horse can not work with them ever again. We do not have that policy in racing today, but we should. What would the response from the mainstream be if Michael Vick is allowed to own a new kennel of dogs?
When we hear criticism from a place like PETA, we at times go overboard to try and appease them, always playing defense. There is no need to, in my opinion. We just have to be open, honest and use some common sense to move forward, because the people who will be voting thumbs up or down on racings future at a ballot box, are filled with it.
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