Have you ever been to Royal Ascot, or one of those classy (but slightly less hierarchically challenging) horseracing events?
The way the organisers target and handle their different target markets is quite fascinating. In a way it’s weirdly comforting to know that the classes are as divided as they were fifty years ago. You know exactly where you fit and it’s not something you could get confused about. Royal Ascot - a study in marketing segmentation.
At least in today’s so called meritocracy anyone can cross the social divide and get in to Ascot (if you’ve got sixty quid that is). This is a marketing illusion of course, because once through the turnstiles the gap between the chattering classes and the hoi polloi is still as wide as ever when you survey the enclosures. Not equine enclosures you understand but the people ones. You usually find a handful of these. The ones in the middle are used as a prophylactic to separate the lower and higher social extremes at either end.
At Royal Ascot in particular, the Chavs clash with the haves in a veritable car crash of spilt Pimms, fake tans and droopy fascinators. But only on the way in. Great care is taken to separate the pies and fries brigade from the champagne Charlies. Brands and badges (the great British invention) are used to clearly identify social standing.
If you have a very special colour badge the royal enclosure beckons with its own lift. It’s marketed as utterly exclusive and has an impossibly strict dress code to go with it, just to cement the illusion of power and class. Men are told what they must wear, and women what they must not. So while the ladies are not permitted to wear trousers or reveal bare legs or have dress straps less than an inch in width (need to hold up the false boobs with decorum), the chaps just have to show up in a morning suit.
Marketing strata are further defined by the champagne brands. Krug, Cristal and Dom for the A class. Bolly and Tatt for the B class. The men eat properly loaded caviar canapés or titbits of salmon without a care for their Body Mass Index, if indeed they’ve ever heard of the term.
The women in the Royal Enclosure are not so lucky. Their figures coaxed inside expensive figure hugging outfits and kitten heels, they are being eyed ferociously by their viciously observant acquaintances. Can a whiff of facial hair, wrinkles or muffin top or a suicidal stray from a size 10, be detected? Best drink vodka and slimline tonic and not eat a thing all day.
Meanwhile in the section marketed to the lower classes, it’s all a bit Torremolinos. Size tens are practically extinct and no-one is overly interested in The Racing Post. Once I even heard a ladette shout “oooh look there’s a horsey” as she dragged on a Marlboro near the parade ring. There’s ample Beryl Cook skin on show, with an impressive array of tattoos and piercings but it’s not the dress code that sets them apart from the royal enclosure types. You can always tell the female of the chavvier species because they don’t stand up for long, committed as they are to any type of alcohol.
Two races in, they’re sitting on the grass, legs akimbo drinking from the neck of a Blossom Hill bottle, guffawing away between expletives while checking their iPhones. Food of choice provided by the marketing chaps is a family bag of doritos. The lads in this enclosure, whilst admirably attired in suits, generally wear ‘designer’ sunglasses and huddle in groups. In their enclosure, industrial quantities of lager are available and they can order chips heavy on the tomato ketchup, salt and vinegar. They look like bouncers waiting for their shift to finish.
The organisers, while adept at marketing segmentation, still attempt ever stricter dress codes and increased entry fees. Are they just trying to make more profit each year or are they trying to turn the lower order, at least temporarily, into demure wannabe upper classes? The fact is, the plumbers and admin assistants who attend Ascot have unprecedented disposable income and while they are looked down on, they in turn do not look up or aspire to eating salt-cured fish-eggs. They enjoy chips, doritos, sweet cocktails and lager, thanks, and this is what’s provided.
They admire Beyonce who looks like she’s having fun, but not Lady Arrabella in the Royal Enclosure who is not allowed to eat or smile and dreads the day when she gets a little bit of fat around her waist. Because this would excuse her moneyed husband in acquiring a younger model.
Wayne and Kylie’s ambition is not to enter a higher social stratum and meet the Queen or Prince William. They basically want to stay as they are but have more money, more laughs, more days out with their mates, more chips and more alcohol and meet their own version of royalty - Victoria and David Beckham.
Go to Royal Ascot and you can watch this all played out in front of you with sophisticated marketing strategies to extract the maximum amount of cash from each audience sector, it’s a masterclass in marketing segmentation.
Which side of the cultural divide do I sit? I’m not sure but . . . . hold on . . . there’s another horsey.
Sue Nelson, CEO and Founder