Sex Sells, But Ad Campaign Was a Quickie

A British Columbia Standardbred track piqued the community's interest with radio advertisements that parodied phone sex, but the campaign won't be back next season. That's not to say the campaign wasn't successful, though.

Fraser Downs near Vancouver ran the ads through the winter months with pretty good results, track general manager Chuck Keeling said. When the ads, titled "The Moaning" and "The Halter," ran on radio station JRfm, which plays country music, earlier this year, they caused a stir. Complaints, one from a listener and some from the station, led the station to pull them within two hours of their initial airing.

The ads, full of double entendres, feature a male caller a female on the other end of the line. The woman talks about seeing "fillies in nothing but a halter," and calls Fraser Downs a place where "a stud can get a bit on the weekend." In a sultry voice, she says the track is a place "where excitement is mounting from any number of positions."

When the clever segments, created by the track's ad agency in Vancouver, were pulled, an apology ran on the radio station. In those ads, a man says "we honestly thought the commercials would be for us, and good for you, too." He ends by saying "Fraser Downs. Live horse racing, not sex, every weekend."

Keeling said the idea came from a newspaper campaign last summer for Sandown Raceway, a Fraser Downs-owned harness track near Victoria on Vancouver Island across from the city of Vancouver. Because that crowd is more conservative, the ads weren't as racy. They led to radio ads that aired on a "controversial station," Keeling said.

"We had tons of free publicity," Keeling said. "Our business was up 11% -- the first increase we had there in a while. Was it the ad campaign? We don't know, but it sure as hell didn't hurt us."

Keeling said management figured the ads would work for Fraser Downs, located in a much more liberal market. They did, though because of other variables, it's hard to say just how they helped on-track business, he said.

"We looked at it as an opportunity," Keeling said. "We had the apology in the can four months before in case the ads were pulled. We wanted to run apology ads. It created a controversy and tons of feedback."

The track has been getting feedback, including through its Web site, where the ads can be heard. Keeling said 80% of respondents liked the campaign, and 20% thought it to be in poor taste. He said he's happy with that ratio: "I thought it would be 50-50."

Keeling couldn't say whether the phone-sex parody was the main reason for the bump in business. "But I can guarantee to anybody who has been critical of the ads, they have not hurt us a bit."

Fraser Downs is open for live harness racing through the spring. When it reopens after the summer season at Sandown, phone sex will be a memory, but controversy might not.

"This (campaign) will see the cellar," Keeling said. "I think maybe we're going to take a shot or two at pro sports (in the next ad campaign)."