Lessons from the Kentucky Derby for brand TikToks

The 148-year-old tradition got a fresh look on TikTok.

The Kentucky Derby's clever TikTok strategy has lessons for PR pros.

When it comes to sporting events, there are some that immediately come to mind like the Olympics, Super Bowl, and the NCAA National Championships. Each event is often listed as a bucket list item for people to attend and be a part of the experience.

Another sporting event that needs to be included in this group of premier sporting events is the Kentucky Derby, one of the largest global horse racing events in the world. This year marked the 148th Kentucky Derby, and the horse racing event was in full display online and offline. Most predominately, the Kentucky Derby was able to use TikTok and other social media channels to tell their story in an entertaining, unique and fun manner.

The Kentucky Derby is known for its history and tradition, but it should also be placed in the same conversation as other sporting events for innovation and creativity when it comes to their social media marketing strategy.

Some best practices and lessons learned from the Kentucky Derby, especially for their social media strategy with TikTok and Instagram, include:

  • Having a sound strategy for content. The Kentucky Derby not only focused on trending musical tracks, but also trending sounds that could be tied to their content. Researching the sounds that are popular on the social entertainment platform first, and then create content that aligns with the brand and event is key, as shown with this video featuring a soundbite from Mike Meyer’s famous character Dr. Evil.
  • Capturing real-time events. Making sure you can capture wins, exciting plays and updates on competitions are considered fundamental sports and social media practices, but it can be applied to TikTok as well. The Kentucky Derby made sure to capture the moments as soon as Rich Strike won the race, as well as the ceremony of the roses and trophy for the winning horse.
  • Content to educate others about the event. Did you know the Kentucky Derby’s title sponsor, Woodford Reserve, has a $1,000 mint julep? Now you know – and the Kentucky Derby shows how one is created on TikTok as well. Educating on topics like this through short-form video can help build a stronger connection with an audience, and even motivate others to put the Kentucky Derby on their calendar for the future.
  • Entertaining through capturing amusing content. Everyone wants to be entertained and have a laugh – which is one of the main reasons people gravitate to TikTok in the first place. There were several viral moments at the Kentucky Derby (besides the long-shot win!), including Jack Harlow. The Grammy-nominated rapper is from Kentucky and was the honored guest to call the jockeys up to the race. However, before he was able to do it, he was escorted across the track so his shoes would not get dirty. This video has become the Kentucky Derby’s most-viewed video with over 10 million views.
  • Embracing fresh perspectives and team members. The Kentucky Derby has offered unique internships for students and young professionals to help with the social media team, and it is a great way for reverse mentorship to create a win-win situation. Students and young professionals are looking to be able to contribute their ideas and perspectives in real world situations and help grow their expertise, while brands are looking for insights into platforms and communities to help their brand expand further. These opportunities are priceless for both, and this can be shown in this video with some of the interns working with the social media team for the content.

If you are looking for inspiration for event and social media marketing on TikTok, the Kentucky Derby is a sure bet for platform success!

Karen Freberg, Ph.D., is a professor in strategic communication at the University of Louisville. 


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