Las Vegas Sun

November 12, 2019

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‘Show’ time: MGM Resorts’ new ad campaign impresses the experts

Bellagio Fountains

Couples watch the show at Bellagio Fountains on Monday, March 16, 2015, on the Las Vegas Strip.

The first ad in MGM Resorts International’s massive new “Welcome to the Show” campaign featured cinema-like video of the company’s properties and attractions interspersed with written text such as “Mankind was not born to be bored” and “We invented MGM to entertain the human race.”

What it didn’t include was a single sales pitch. But that was no accident.

The campaign is built on an abstract approach that, according to advertising experts, is at the forefront of marketing in general and hospitality marketing in particular. Instead of a hard sell, “Welcome to the Show” is designed to spark curiosity about the company among consumers and encourage them to explore its properties.

“The idea is if they show you bits of a story, sometimes you’re left with a question and that question itself is enough trigger for you to go on the web and Google it,” said Anjala Krishen, associate professor of marketing and international business at UNLV. “People don’t like being beat over the head. I don’t know that we ever liked it, but especially not in 2017. We want to feel like we’re making a choice.”

Krishen said businesses in general have come to realize that telling stories about their brands can be more effective than always pushing consumers to buy. It’s a methodology that dates to at least 1989, when automaker Infiniti ran commercials featuring images of birds and storms but not of its actual cars.

After reviewing the MGM ad, which was aired last Sunday during the Emmy Awards broadcast, one national advertising industry leader said the company had struck a good balance between both approaches.

“It’s an interesting thought that humans aren’t meant to be bored and MGM exists to entertain them whatever they’re up to,” said Nick Barham, chief strategy officer for global advertising company TBWA. “I like that MGM is inserting themselves into the fundamental human needs of culture and art. It’s an interesting area to play in, but then what they are really showing us is just a montage.”

Krishen said campaigns like MGM’s can work in part because of a psychological phenomenon called the mere-exposure effect, also called the familiarity principle. In it, people will start to feel favorable about something simply by becoming more aware of it. At that point, Krishen said, simple curiosity can kick in.

Barham gave the campaign high marks for being easy to grasp.

“I think it’s a very clear communication,” he said. “They’re saying, ‘We’re here to entertain humanity … and then look at all these wonderful properties we have.”

Barham also said MGM’s campaign reflected a trend in the hospitality industry in which companies, even mainstays like Hyatt and Marriott, attempt to sell experiences, not just rooms.

Indeed, the campaign is built around a message that MGM executives have been emphasizing for years: The company is not in the casino business, it’s in the entertainment business. As such “Welcome to the Show” presents the company as a provider of an overall entertainment experience that includes stage productions, nightlife, dining, shopping and attractions like the Bellagio fountains. Gaming is promoted, but it’s not the central element.

Lilian Tomovich, MGM’s chief experience and marketing officer, said the new ad campaign amounted to a formal announcement that MGM Resorts International is no longer simply a casino/hotel company.

“Absolutely, that’s right. Over the last 10 years, we’ve been evolving from being a traditional casino operator to really looking and acting like a holistic entertainment company,” she said.

“We spent the last year and a half formalizing our brand strategy and a roadmap for the future,” Tomovich said. “What the campaign is really about is that entertainment is a fundamental human need.”

By focusing the pitch on entertainment, she said, MGM hopes to attract people who don’t think of themselves as gamblers. Krishen says that’s a smart move.

“At the very least, (the campaign) is shifting the discussion and we’re talking about it,” she said. “Sometimes the big thing is to shift the landscape. So I think in that sense, they are definitely doing the right thing. A lot of the advertising had been the same ol’, same ol’ — the same story recycled.”

Tomovich said the campaign would be expansive. It will include more TV ads on prime time broadcast and cable television, significant outdoor advertising in California and New York, and an ambitious social media campaign.

“This is a digital-forward plan,” she said. “We have invested heavily. I think we are spending more money than anybody else in Las Vegas, in fact, probably more than all other properties combined.”

The company also hopes the campaign will help customers identify which resorts actually belong to the MGM family.

“Even today, after all the mergers, there’s not a great deal of clarity about which brands fall under the MGM umbrella,” another MGM spokeswoman said. “This is an opportunity to connect the dots for consumers.”

At least one gaming analyst agrees.

“Identifying all of its properties under one brand helps to create a halo effect to benefit the less prominent assets in the portfolio,” said Alex Bumazhny, a gaming industry analyst with Fitch Ratings.

Bumazhny said the campaign may also help MGM appeal to another important audience — investors.

“This may have a dual benefit of resonating well with customers seeking an experience beyond gaming and more traditional hotel amenities as well as highlighting a more diverse revenue mix for Wall Street,” Bumazhny said.