Totaro bets on Harrah's as advertising director

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For amanda totaro, casino advertising is truly a family affair.

When the 38-year-old joined Harrah's Entertainment as its senior director of advertising in January, she became the second member of her family to roll the dice in the field. Her husband, David Totaro, 52, was named senior VP-marketing at Harrah's competitor Caesars World last year and became VP-chief brand officer at Park Place Entertainment several months later when the company acquired Caesars.

Ms. Totaro had followed her husband to Las Vegas from New York, where she was managing director of marketing communications at Hill & Knowlton. She hoped to stay in marketing.

"I did not plan to go into the casino industry," she said.

But Las Vegas is still largely a one-industry town, and when she heard about the Harrah's opportunity, she jumped at the chance to apply. Before the interview got going, she was upfront about the fact that a competitor lived under the same, newly built roof.

Harrah's, which operates 21 casinos across the country (17 Harrah's, two Players' that will soon take that flag, plus the Showboat and Rio), respected her ability to keep her work and home life separate, and gave her the job.

COMPETITIVE HISTORY

It wasn't the first time the couple had found themselves in competitive situations. Before Hill & Knowlton, Ms. Totaro had been senior director of global marketing at MasterCard International, while her husband was exec VP-chief marketing officer at New York-based Dime Bancorp, a Visa member bank. (The pair met at Dime several years earlier when Ms. Totaro was its VP-director of advertising and corporate communications.)

"We don't even talk about work," she said. "As a matter of fact, he hasn't even seen the Harrah's spots."

Harrah's began running those commercials -- the first national brand campaign in the industry featuring shots of the action inside a casino -- three months ago as part of its "Moment of Truth" campaign from Carmichael Lynch, Minneapolis. Ms. Totaro's duties at Harrah's began with her traveling to Los Angeles to shoot the spots.

One of the commercials shows a game of craps; the other a rolling slot machine. The action in both comes to a halt just as the viewer is about to learn the results of the games.

"Both spots capture the anticipation and emotion that the player experiences," Ms. Totaro said.

Unlike other casino companies with a Vegas presence that recently have tried to position themselves as part-casino, part-theme park, part-resort, Harrah's focuses its marketing on veteran gamblers. Loosely put, its target is middle-income people ages 35 to 55 who frequent casinos eight or more times a year.

So Harrah's may stand to benefit most from the U.S. Supreme Court's decision last year that allowed casino ads to show gambling in action. The company began running a promotional spot doing just that in September, and later launched the first branding campaign to do so.

"It allows us to really create advertising that resonates with the experienced players that we're targeting," Ms. Totaro said.

It also gives Ms. Totaro more cards to play with.

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