2017 Kentucky Derby – A Modern Classic

— Anna Coccodrilli 

As the longest-running sporting event in U.S. history, the Kentucky Derby has defined a way of life in Louisville, Kentucky, for the past 143 years. Although the race may be known as the most exciting two minutes in sports, to the more than 150,000 attendees of the 2017 Derby ranging from first-timers to dedicated veterans, it is so much more. From hats to bets and parties in between, the Derby is a tradition like no other. However, the Derby is not immune to the changing landscape of the world outside the Twin Spires. WE ventured to Louisville this year to take a look at America’s greatest tradition and assess how it is transforming. Read on to hear more about some of my takeaways both spotted and spurred at the 143rd Run for the Roses.

Traditions versus tech

The Derby is the pinnacle of Americana traditions. From the singing of “My Old Kentucky Home” to the hats and mint juleps, the race epitomizes the definition and value of tradition. WE client Woodford Reserve, as the official bourbon of the Kentucky Derby, is at the center of it. The Twin Spires sit in a world where even traditional companies want to be tech companies, and are undergoing constant innovation and transformation. The Kentucky Derby isn’t immune to this. Like never before, tech is playing a role in shaping the Derby. Between Snapchat’s horse-face lens to Churchill Downs geotags and branded filters, attendees had plenty to do between races. WE and client 14 Hands Winery joined in the fun with a Derby first: a hands- and eyes-on virtual reality experience that transported Derbygoers from Churchill Downs to Horse Heaven Hills in eastern Washington.

Social versus sporting

To Derby traditionalists, the Derby is first and foremost a sporting event. Though, with the weekend becoming more of a lifestyle trip — think Coachella of the south (minus the electronic dance music, plus horses) — traditionalists are having to make way for the socialites and celebrities. Major brands are also taking this opportunity to show up. Gone are the days of the Barnstable Brown gala being the only party in town. Now, Esquire and the likes are hosting major VIP events. Brands such as Vineyard Vines even provided free, branded hats on-site as a way of targeting younger audiences attending the Derby in droves and not just for the races. And this leads to my next Derby observation — food!

Always hungry

Like much else, Derby is not immune to the pervasive “foodie” culture permeating society and social media. WE and 14 Hands sponsored the Taste of Derby event to kick off the weekend. Here, consumers were able to taste recipes from world-renowned chefs alongside 14 Hands wine pairings.

Although the Kentucky Derby will always revolve around the final two minutes of the first Saturday in May, even an event ripe with tradition evolves with changing consumer behavior, tastes and technology. And, if there is something WE loves, it is seeing yet another cultural icon exemplifying Stories in Motion.

Connect with the author, Anna Coccodrilli, on Twitter