Casino advertising

July 06, 2010 7:07 AM


by Jim Signorelli (pictured), Special to GamingToday

Every casino advertising touch point helps to tell the story about your brand. These touch points will either combine to tell a story prospects will soon forget, or long-remember. It will be one they like and share with others or dislike, pass over or, worse yet, grumble about. Your brand story can either enhance your marketing position or it can actually improve your competitors’.

Many casino marketers are accidentally telling stories that they ultimately don’t want to be associated with. Take for instance the casino that advertises, "loosest slots," or "more fun per square inch than any casino in town." Besides being a story that few may really care about emotionally, it is quickly overshadowed by the competitor’s story that allures visitors to find out more through the use of aspirational characters or provocative design.

What many casino marketers fail to consider is that successful casino brand stories do more than just tell a plot consisting of facts and opinions. The best stories are those that have alluring, unique themes that stir deep-seated desire. Furthermore, these same marketers may not realize it, brands, like stories, enhance their attractiveness by leaving something to our imaginations. Hearing a punch line explained is rarely as satisfying as getting to it ourselves.

There’s a great deal that casino marketers can learn from the principles of good storytelling. Here are just a few important principles worth considering:

Think about the "inner layer."

Brands and stories have outer and inner layers. The outer layer consists of facts about features and benefits. The problem with casinos is that if the outer layer provides a meaningful difference, it isn’t too long before it is out copied or out-differentiated. If you think you have a unique selling proposition, know that it has an expiration date. What’s unique today, won’t be for long.

On the other hand, the inner layer is what the brand stands for indefinitely. It is, in effect, your brand’s essence. Unlike a unique selling proposition that extols fact, it is a unique value proposition that communicates the unique belief or value that your brand stands for. For casinos it might be found in the type of people who go there, or aspire to being seen there.

You might ask yourself what kind of people are in your brand story? If your casino were a brand of clothing, who would wear it with your logo proudly displayed? Are they fashionable or are they regular Joes and Janes? If you’re going to show patrons, show them as different and desirable companions. And show them in unusual poses rather than the expected couple standing next to a roulette table excited over their winnings. Prospects want, more than anything, to know that they belong in the picture you’re showing. If that picture looks like one that could be for any casino, you’re implying that there’s nothing really special about yours.

Stop telling the truth.

The best storytellers know there are two kinds of truth. Small "t" truth is what we use to persuade people or to get them to think what we want them to think. Consider the storyteller who says, up front, "I have a funny story" vs. the one who just tells it without having to add any editorial comments about it. It’s the same with casino brand stories. Telling prospects how many slot machines you have, or the fact that you are the place "where winners play," falls on deaf ears and tired eyes.

Big "T" truth, on the other hand, is what people choose to believe based on their own interpretations. It’s more implicit than explicit. And it is profoundly more impactful. In general, casinos can do more for themselves by using fewer direct brag statements. That’s why, when we introduced Detroit’s MotorCity Casino Hotel we positioned it as, "Built to the Beat of Detroit" instead of claiming it was the best casino hotel in town (despite our opinion that it is). With this line, we linked up to a favorable attitude that Detroiters could identify with.

Don’t create your brand story, find it.

Remember the failed advertising campaign, "This is not your father’s Oldsmobile." The problem is that it was your father’s Oldsmobile, no matter how hard they tried to convince us otherwise. Finding your real essence and showing it in its best light trumps being something you’re not. Be true to your story. Keep in mind that your story will be shared, for better or worse. If it’s completely fictitious, you’ll get found out.

Think of promotions as another chapter of the brand’s story.

A big dollar give away is something any casino can promote. But if the promotion ties into your brand’s story, it separates you from the pack and enhances your identity. If you’re the fashionable casino, promote fashionable prizes. If you’re the regular guy casino, promote things that a regular guy would want. Promotion for the sake of promotion just keeps you even with the competition. Promotions that tie back to who you are help separate you from the pack during the promotion and afterwards.

If you’re going to spend money on promotions, spend a little more to find out if it is the best among alternatives. Make time for testing. Avoid gut feel. Find a panel of gamers that can be called upon to provide feedback. In addition to finding out if the promotion will generate increased visits, ask, "what kind of casino would have a promotion like this?" If the answer is "any casino," think harder.

(Jim Signorelli is the founder and CEO of ESW Partners, a full-service marketing communications company specializing in casino marketing, based in Chicago. For more information visit