Exploring the symbolism of the failed co-branding between Sydney Opera House & Racing NSW

Advertising the Racing NSW brand on the Sydney Opera House is a failed co-branding attempt. It failed because of the clashing symbolism of the two parties involved.

Is this a billboard or is it co-branding?

The Prime Minister of Australia has described the Opera House as a 'billboard'.  If the Sydney Opera House is just a billboard then it brings no intrinsic meaning or symbolism to the things it promotes. If that is the case, Racing NSW wanted to use it for purely pragmatic reasons, perhaps because of the number of people who will see it in transit (the usual measure of billboard success).  Is this idea credible: that Racing NSW choose this building over all others simply for its location?  Not to me. I am guessing - but I have no  inside information  to base this on - that the NSW Racing strategists wanted its symbolic capital, i.e. the kudos of the Opera House rubbing off on Racing NSW. I think they wanted some of its beauty, its gravitas, its intelligence -  and its role as a symbol of national pride. Otherwise they could have used any another building. The AMP Building perhaps?  They wanted the benefits of co-branding.

How to successfully co-brand

So let's look at how to co-brand successfully. Brands that co-brand successfully work together to create a single brand.  The two brands fuse in the mind.  I would argue that this fusion occurred when the Opera House sails were lit up during Vivid because Vivid symbolises art, beauty and innovation just as the Opera House does.  I think it occurred when the Opera House visually congratulated the national cricket team for their 4-0 win over England.  National pride x 2. 

How to fail at co-branding

There are many co-branding fails and all of them involve a failure to recognise the equal status of the two brands. That is what happened here. There is no fusion between the Opera House and Racing NSW. One is national and the other isn't. One is all about arts,  beauty and innovation and the other isn't. One is long term and heritage; the other is for short -term profit.

The marketing brief?

So this raises the question of Racing NSW's strategy. What did they want to do? At a guess, they want to create a Sydney version of the Melbourne Cup (a public holiday was mooted apparently). To try to make the event iconic they thought they could cobrand with an iconic building, forgetting that the story of the Opera House and the battle to have it built are part of Sydney folklore.  Iconic has to be earned.

Marketing fail. Co-branding fail. Symbolism fail.


Image courtesy of  SMH: Cheap ads must not tarnish Opera House brand

Susan Bell is a semiotician and researcher who is a Fellow of both the AMSRS and the AMI.  Semiotics is the study of signs and symbols.

Tags: Rituals, Symbolism,, Branding

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