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Marketing experts offer mixed views of new MGM ad campaign

Don’t call MGM Resorts International a gaming company.

The Strip’s biggest casino operator this past weekend launched a multimillion-dollar corporate branding campaign that makes almost no mention of its largest business segment.

A key piece of the campaign, a 60-second TV ad that is being aired nationally, highlights the company’s wide offering of shows, restaurants, bars and sporting events.

Yet, there is not one word or image about gaming in the ad. Not one slot nor one table. Not even a card or die.

MGM doesn’t even consider its 2 million square feet of gaming space — enough to fill 35 football fields — the one element that unites its more than two dozen global properties.

Rather the array of entertainment experiences “form the nexus across the company’s 27 distinctive resort destinations,” MGM said in a statement on Monday to announce the new campaign.

From Ancient Rome to Vegas

The new video clip starts with a series of photos of ancient Rome, such as a coliseum, followed by the modern-day MGM equivalent, like the T-Mobile arena.

Humans have sought entertainment since they could light a camp fire and MGM is fulfilling that need today with its lineup of shows and experiences, say ad creators McCann New York.

The TV commercial then flashes some of those MGM experiences, such as acrobats swinging in the air, dancers performing on stage, sparks jumping out of champagne bottles and confetti falling onto a crowded nightclub dance floor.

“Entertainment is so basic to who we are as human beings and always has been. It’s why we create art and make music and tell stories and play games,” said David Moore, senior vice president and director of brand content at McCann New York, which created the ads.

“The ancient imagery is there to illustrate that insight, and also to draw a straight line from history to what MGM is doing now: entertaining the human race in the most artful and epic way imaginable,” he also said.

The ad will run on national TV as well as cable through the end of the year. A 160-second video will be aired on social media such as YouTube. That video dedicates about 2 seconds to gaming.

Dissatisfied millennials

MGM may have cut the gaming images to appeal to younger generations that have been skipping the casino floors for the shows and nightclubs or avoiding Las Vegas altogether.

Millennials are generally dissatisfied with the traditional casino gaming experience and it’s not their primary interest when coming to Las Vegas, Joyen Vakil, senior vice president of design and development at MGM, told a travel industry conference earlier this month.

Gaming is still the goose that lays the golden egg for MGM, accounting for about 55 percent of the company’s global revenue.

However, gaming generates only about 40 percent of MGM’s revenue in Las Vegas, the company’s biggest market, and has been declining in percentage terms for years.

MGM this month filled 2,000 square feet of former casino floor space with a group virtual reality game.

“We have known for a while that more and more of the revenue is coming from the hospitality side, so it shouldn’t be shocking” that gaming is not part of the advertisement, said David Katz, a gaming analyst at Telsey Advisory Group.

MGM is not in danger of losing its loyal, baby boomer gambling base by appealing to a younger audience seeking entertainment, said David Reibstein, a professor of marketing at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business.

Getting Twitter feedback

In addition, the campaign will feature advertisements on traditional and digital billboards in cities where MGM has properties, such as Las Vegas, Washington D.C. and New Orleans.

They will also appear in key feeder cities like Los Angeles and New York. A 15-second animated ad will appear on a digital billboard at Times Square, the most popular tourist destination in New York City.

MGM plans to promote the campaign on social media, including extensive use of SnapChat, the photo sharing app popular with Millennials. More than 70 percent of Snapchat users are under the age of 34.

The campaign is filled with slogans that MGM likely hopes will become memorable catchphrases like ‘What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas’ or Wendy’s ‘Where’s the beef?’

Among them are “We are not in the hotel business, We are in the holy sh*t business’’ and ‘The world’s leading producer of OMG.’’ The company also uses OMGM, a play on the abbreviation of ‘Oh my God’ and MGM.

The last casino to use a provocative slogan to draw attention was The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, which used “Just the right amount of wrong.”

While the slogans have received significant attention so far on Twitter, garnering about 150 retweets each in 24 hours – or about 10 times the MGM average — professors of marketing say the use of profanity in ads is risky and can easily backfire.

“Use of profanity, explicit or implied, only gets attention for a moment and is not a sustained brand communication strategy. It’s also a mistake for the parent brand MGM which is more than just a holy shit business,” said Aimee Drolet Rossi, a marketing professor at the University of California at Los Angeles specializing in branding.

“In any case, profanity no longer shocks most consumers.”

It’s Las Vegas, baby

MGM, though, may be able to get away with it “because it is Las Vegas,” said Wharton’s Reibstein.

Robert Rippee, who leads the Hospitality Lab at UNLV’s International Gaming Institute, said the young target audience must perceive the advertisement and slogans as genuine if it is too succeed.

Pepsi Co. was forced earlier this year to pull its new multi-million ad showing a young girl at a rally handing a police officer a soda can after it was deemed insensitive, triggering an uproar on social media.

“If you are not really being authentic, it has the risk of backfiring,” Rippee said about the slogans.

MGM must be prepared for a multi-year campaign if it wants succeed in branding itself as an entertainment company, said UCLA’s Drolet Rossi and Warton’s Reibstein.

It took Hyundai and Kia many years to alter its image and gain the respectability usually given to Japanese car makers, Drolet Rossi said.

“You need to be consistent with your campaign over a long period of time,” said Reibstein.

Contact Todd Prince at tprince@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0386. Follow @toddprincetv on Twitter.

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