Shortly before 9 p.m. on a chilly Thursday night, a pack of mostly 20-somethings and 30-somethings are huddled outside a Philadelphia office building, ready to “Do AC.”
Many of the women are sucked into figure-hugging mini-dresses, their smiles topped off with crimson lipstick as part of a tourism initiative that is running free trips for groups of 30-some people from Philadelphia to Atlantic City. Platform heels leave them perched several inches taller than their natural heights as they wait to board the Do AC Nightclub on Wheels.
That is, all except for Erin MacCausland, one of a pack of Drexel University sorority sisters well prepared for a night of Atlantic City clubbing. Keeping warm — somewhat at least — in a sleeveless, feathered black coat, MacCausland holds her 3-inch stilettos in her right hand and allows her feet to rest closer to the ground in ballet flats, for now.
“I love A.C. It’s where we go for all of our 21st birthdays. I’m 22, but I’m an old 22, so not enough people could come for mine, but we definitely go for everyone else’s,” MacCausland said. “If I had more money, I’d be down all the time.”
That’s exactly what the Atlantic City Alliance wants to hear, and it wants people like MacCausland to keep doing the talking. The marketing group funded by Atlantic City’s casinos recently embarked on the initiative to promote the resort as a top nightlife destination.
No one can sign up for the bus or rent it privately. Participants, who are showered with free food and drinks and waived cover fees, win spots through radio contests and promotional giveaways. They can also be recruited by selected coordinators.
Once onboard and tagged with blinking “Do AC” bracelets, the partygoers’ mission is to post as much as possible about their nights out to Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. In about two months, those postings have reached more than 1 million people, alliance chief strategist Jeff Guaracino said.
“We can buy a commercial and tell people it’s great all we want, but people don’t trust that,” Guaracino said. “This is the real world, and we have real people saying, ‘Hey, we like nightlife in Atlantic City.’”
On this particular trip, the pack of more than 30 make their way onto the souped-up bus where disco balls hang from the ceiling and neon laser pointers dart around the tiny dance floor.
The partygoers are greeted with champagne handed to them in “Do AC” cups as DJ Nigel Richards tells them the rules for the night: Everything is free, keep your identification nearby and “social media the crap out of this.”
“We’ve had some chill bus rides. We’ve had some out-of-control bus rides,” Richards says. “Let’s make this one out of control.”
The party bus and its thumping bass music have stopped all over the city during its two months in service, with a focus on casino locations. The itinerary for this particular night begins with food at the Irish Pub, then heads to Anthem Lounge at Tropicana Casino and Resort, and ends with a finale at Haven Nightclub at Golden Nugget Atlantic City. The partiers are then sent back to Philadelphia with pizza from Tony’s Baltimore Grill.
At each stop, the group is given the Twitter handle for the location, pushing them to promote places that may typically be quieter, particularly on a weeknight. The group, however, doesn’t seem to mind walking into some of the more sparsely populated areas, perhaps because they come as a cohort of more than 30, who become friendlier throughout the night due in part to the drinks they share.
“We don’t try to hide what Atlantic City is,” Guaracino said. “They’re seeing a mix of everything Atlantic City has to offer.”
Among the crowd on the ride is Philadelphia social scene blogger and celebrity photographer HughE Dillon. A contributor to several Philadelphia publications in addition to his own Philly Chit Chat blog, Dillon is one of several people the alliance has tapped to help coordinate a trip.
His promotion of the city is valuable to the alliance because of the nearly 16,000 people, largely based in Philadelphia, who follow his every move on Twitter. As a Stone Harbor native, he’s also familiar with Atlantic City’s progression.
“I see it like this is what Atlantic City should have done years ago to promote the city,” Dillon said. “I think everyone was waiting for it to become like Vegas, and nobody knows that it actually has. You’ve got to get real people down here to experience this.”
Celebrity chef and Philadelphia native Jennifer Carroll was among the friends Dillon convinced to try out a night in Atlantic City. A finalist on Bravo’s Top Chef Las Vegas: Season 6, Carroll comes with her own host of loyal followers. More than 31,000 people follow her on Twitter.
So when she and friend Madison Alpern tweeted out photos of themselves telling social media they should Do AC Nightlife, their reach is far.
Carroll was particularly impressed by one of the calmer stops on the trip, to the Irish Pub on St. James Place, where the partiers stood out among the usual local crowd. Owner Cathy Burke went over to greet Carroll and brought food out of the kitchen to the group personally.
“I just love places like this. You can tell she really cares about her business,” Carroll said. “For her to be in the kitchen and bringing the food out herself is just so sweet.”
Whether the alliance will engage another round of nightlife bus rides has yet to be determined. A survey of 2,000 Philadelphia-area residents were questioned about their impressions of nightlife in Atlantic City before the campaign was launched. Now, the alliance will have to determine whether its campaign has improved those perceptions.
“We think this program has been a home run. It’s exceeded our expectations,” Guaracino said. “Next could be looking at something similar for New York City or Baltimore. We’ll have to weigh those options.”
Contact Jennifer Bogdan:
@ACPressJennifer on Twitter