Atlantic City’s $20 million advertising campaign appears to be “Do-ing” what it is supposed to, creating a bigger buzz for the casino town as it tries to reshape its image into a more upscale tourist destination.
Officials with the Atlantic City Alliance, creator of the “Do AC” campaign, said Tuesday night that 39 percent of the people who have seen the multimedia blitz say they now want to visit the resort and that perceptions are changing for the better.
“Absolutely, the message is getting through about the diversity here,” Liza Cartmell, president of the alliance, told a community forum during an update about the campaign’s overall success.
Cartmell noted that 79 percent of the people exposed to the ads said they felt better about Atlantic City afterward. In addition, 85 percent of them were motivated to “take some action” toward Atlantic City, such as wanting to know more about its attractions or perhaps planning trips.
In another key indicator, the campaign was “liked” by an average of 75 percent of the people who saw the ads in the major markets of New York, Philadelphia and Baltimore. For New York, it was 90 percent. Overall, the industry likability average for ad campaigns is about 66 percent, alliance spokesman Jeff Guaracino said.
The alliance conducted an online survey of 1,200 people to gauge public opinion about the “Do AC” branding. Cartmell said the survey targeted “fun-seekers,” between the ages of 21 and 65, who are interested in taking short trips and enjoy an array of attractions.
Overall, the goal is to increase tourism in a town that has seen the number of visitor trips decline from a peak of about 35 million in 2006 to fewer than 30 million last year.
“I think the proof is in the pudding, whether people actually get in cars, buses or planes to come here,” Cartmell acknowledged.
One encouraging sign was an 11 percent increase in hotel occupancy at the Atlantic City casinos over the summer, she said.
Don Marrandino, president of the Bally’s, Caesars, Harrah’s Resort and Showboat casinos owned by Caesars Entertainment Corp., said hotel occupancy was 90 percent in September at the four properties.
Marrandino, who also serves as chairman of the alliance’s board of trustees, credited the ad campaign for boosting business to Atlantic City from the Baltimore-Washington, D.C., corridor.
“I think things are going in the right direction,” he said. “I can tell you we have seen a heck of a lot more business from the Baltimore and D.C. areas than we have had.”
The alliance’s publicity push is designed to lure more visitors from throughout the Northeast by portraying Atlantic City as an exciting, higher-end tourist destination offering more than just casino gambling.
An additional $6 million is being spent on a fall ad campaign that touts Atlantic City as an off-season getaway. It emphasizes the city’s retail shops, restaurants, nightclub scene, spas and other nongambling attractions.
The alliance has partnered with The Press of Atlantic City Media Group for an online guide, called Atlantic City Insiders, to help visitors navigate the city’s restaurants, nightclubs and other hotspots.
AtlanticCityInsiders.com, launched in May, has nearly three-quarters of its online visitors from the Philadelphia, North Jersey, New York, Maryland and Washington, D.C., markets, company officials said.
Atlantic City’s tourism usually slows down dramatically during the fall and winter months. However, the alliance and other groups are trying to revitalize the tourist trade through a new shopping promotion and holiday events.
Cartmell announced Tuesday that the alliance is launching a $400,000 promotional campaign and will partner with a major mall operator to draw more visitors to town during the holiday shopping season.
The “It’s an AC Shopping Holiday” promotion is aimed at tourists from New Jersey, Philadelphia and New York. As part of the campaign, Atlantic City shopping messages will be placed on 4,000 New York City taxicabs. Ads will be published in New Jersey, Philadelphia and New York.
The alliance will partner with PREIT Malls in November and December for Atlantic City-themed holiday signs at the company’s shopping centers in Cherry Hill as well as Exton Square and Willow Grove Park in suburban Philadelphia.
“The advertising and promotions are designed to showcase Atlantic City as a premier shopping destination,” Cartmell said. “The intent is to draw visitors to ‘Do AC’ for their holiday shopping.”
Other events are planned to build visitation and excitement during the holiday season. Cartmell said the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, the state agency that oversees the city’s Tourism District, will sponsor a holiday parade Dec. 1 featuring marching bands and floats.
The Tourism District will get a festive makeover, including 6-foot-high candy canes lining Atlantic Avenue and a 36-foot holiday tree erected at Maine Avenue. The tree has been donated by Tanger Outlets, owner of The Walk shopping and entertainment district at the foot of the Atlantic City Expressway.
As an added incentive for shoppers, free gift wrapping will be available at casinos on Saturdays and Sundays in December. A discounted parking rate will be offered at the “Wave” garage on Mississippi Avenue for shoppers who make at least $50 in purchases from The Walk.
Cartmell said other promotional events are in the planning stages for the off-season, including a winter wine festival on the Boardwalk and possibly a national sand-sculpting championship on the beach.
The alliance, a private group funded by the casinos, is part of a broader effort by Gov. Chris Christie to revive the local economy. Atlantic City is in the midst of a six-year revenue slump caused by the sluggish economy and competition from casinos in surrounding states.
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