Harrah's ads accentuate the positive

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Spotlight gaming's `contagious' fun by featuring rare casino winners

Harrah's Entertainment breaks a campaign this week to promote its casinos by showing off those lucky few who actually score the big win.

The estimated $25 million campaign is Harrah's second major branding effort for its casinos since the U.S. Supreme Court lifted the ban on gambling advertising three years ago. Before that ruling, marketers generally were not allowed to broadcast ads featuring people gambling inside casinos.

The ads, created by Omnicom Group's TLP Tracy Locke Partnership, Dallas, will appear in spot TV nationwide in nine cities: Atlanta; Chicago; Los Angeles; Memphis, Tenn.; New York; Philadelphia; St. Louis; San Francisco; and Sacramento, Calif.

The campaign, TLP's first TV work since winning the branding portion of the Harrah's account earlier this year, is designed to target people between 40 and 60 years old and is meant to skew 60% toward women, 40% men, said Harrah's VP-brand management Amanda Totaro. In the past, Interpublic Group of Cos.' Carmichael Lynch, Minneapolis did the hotel and casino chain's brand advertising while TLP handled promotions.

The two spots show people grinning from ear to ear as they play slot machines, while a loud soundtrack plays in the background-lyrics exhort viewers to "come on and spin it," "play it to the max" and "take it to the top." One ad shows a close-up of a machine that has come up with three "7's," while the second features a beaming woman who hugs her friend while a computer tallies her winnings. The spots end with the tagline, "You know you gotta get to Harrah's, oh yeah."

The ads are supposed to illustrate "the contagious fun that people have when they're gaming," said Maggie Nation, group account director at TLP. Harrah's Ms. Totaro adds the campaign is the product of market research showing consumers visit Harrah's for the love of the game.

"People love coming to Harrah's and playing their favorite slot machine. Seeing that win meter pick up when they hit triple seven is very exciting," she said.

Hitting the jackpot might be exciting, but the likelihood of actually doing it is another story. "It's a deceiving ad," said Kevin O'Neill, deputy director of the nonprofit Council on Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey. "Most people don't think about the odds. What [the casinos] want to do is give them the opinion they're going to win, when if you walk through any casino, most people lose."

Mr. O'Neill's organization would like all gambling ads to include the toll-free number for a gambler's hotline. "We don't expect them to show people losing, because they're not going to do it," he said. "What we expect is responsible advertising."

Ms. Nation and Ms. Totaro both said the spots show people enjoying themselves regardless of whether they won or lost.

Commercial casinos took in $22.2 billion in revenue in 1999, the last year for which data were available, according to the umbrella organization American Gaming Association. The organization also reports 30% of U.S. households visited a casino in 1999, making an average of 5.4 trips a year.

Spending on casino commercials was expected to increase after the Supreme Court paved the way in 1999 for gambling ads. At the time, Harrah's told Advertising Age it would increase its ad spending. However, Harrah's total ad spending steadily decreased in the last three years, from about $34 million in 1998 to $32 million in 1999 to $27 million in the first 11 months of 2000, according to Competitive Media Reporting.

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