Derby contenders Uncle Mo and Stay Thirsty have owner Mike Repole sitting in the catbird seat these days and from all accounts it could not be happening to a nicer guy. In his relatively short time involved in the sport (he bought his first horse in 2002), Repole has done nothing but good things when it comes to promoting the sport, including casting Shaquille O’Neal as a jockey in this 2008 Super Bowl ad for Vitaminwater:
Unfortunately, we don’t see horse racing in mainstream advertising that much anymore, but (once again) that wasn’t always the case. As someone whose “real job” requires the study of visual images and interpreting their contextual meaning, these ads fascinate me. They reveal how profoundly ingrained in American culture thoroughbred racing once was.
Not surprisingly, hard liquor ads in particular often featured horseracing themes, like these two for PM whiskey, one from 1948 illustrating Citation’s walkover in the Pimlico Special (click to make larger), and the other from 1951 recalling the great 1938 Seabiscuit vs. War Admiral match race.
Notice the racing lingo bantered about so casually, as in this 1956 ad for Schweppes (“odds-on favorite”) and this 1959 Coke ad (“your money’s on the favorite...”). Even long-time horse owner and founding partner of Del Mar racetrack Bing Crosby lent his image to Royal Crown soda for this 1945 ad that also cross-promotes his latest film (“You bet RC tastes best!”).
Love this 1959 ad for the Plymouth Fury convertible! “Full of fury and eager to run! They’re off! And this sleek, sure-footed Plymouth Sport Fury steps ahead and stays ahead. With its New Golden Commando 395, biggest V-8 in the low-price field, it gives you instant response without the least bit of strain—all the horses you could want for modern driving…For this well-muscled beauty handles with sports-car ease, too.”
Here’s one from 1943 for Breeze aircraft engine starters: “Quick starting. Seconds saved in starting can bring victory.” Not surprisingly, if you read down through the ad it mentions they are used in military and naval aircraft, so the victory alluded to and symbolized by the race horse is more specifically referencing our efforts in World War II.
Alcohol, cigarettes, automobiles...one can readily get the connection to horse racing with those products, but how about this 1948 ad for Textron women’s blouses: “Pick two to win. Wonderful to show too.”