Home and Away

Cultural differences mean that usually, with international marketing, changes have to be made to brands, and even to products; McDonalds in Egypt is quite a different offering to the golden arches in Missouri, for example. It’s perhaps an obvious example, but with casino resorts it’s not so obvious what the differences are; John Schadler sheds some light on how using Las Vegas as a microcosm, his company has learned to market to our similarities while embracing our differences.

Casino International: What does SK+G Advertising do – is it all in the name?
John Schadler: We’re a marketing and communications company, and have a discipline ofin a 360-degree solution in the in that space. So everything from advertising, graphic design, interactive, media, public relations, broadcast – every marketing solution in the sphere. We’ve established, during almost 14 years in business, a specialty in the leisure and luxury lifestyle category. Most of our clients, as we are based in Las Vegas, are in the gaming, hospitality, luxury resort, luxury real estate, and food and beverage retail categories.

CI: Is that as a result of where you are based, in Las Vegas?
JS: I spent the first part of my career, for about 15 years, as head of advertising for Steve Wynn and Mirage Resorts. So I was on the hotel and gaming side for a long period of time, opening the Mirage, Treasure Island and Bellagio resorts on the Strip. So my background is really on the operational and marketing side working for big hotel and gaming brands. The fact that I lived here in Vegas and grew up in that world was really the reason, when the opportunity came to form the company, I recognised there was a need for high-level marketing services for this particular sector.
Being based in Vegas gives us the opportunity to – we call it the ideal cultural testing ground, with close to 40m visitors a year turning over every 2.5 to 3 days, 120,000 hotel rooms, thousands of restaurant seats, show seats and gaming positions… It’s  almost the ultimate laboratory when it comes to consumer behaviour and entertainment and lifestyle marketing. It’s the ideal place for us to be based; we took the discipline and realised there were properties and enterprises not only across the US but internationally that could benefit from our knowledge and expertise, plus our services. So we have developed a client roster that is not just locally or US focussed but which spans across to China, the Philippines, and the Bahamas, and beyond.

CI: Do you really think Vegas is representative of an average consumer, or are you profiling the travelling consumer, the person on holiday that is a different animal to the person at home?
JS: Vegas attracts a wide swathe of people and visitors. You’re right, there’s a certain mindset about the consumer on holiday or travelling for a break, and that may be true of the average visitor or the person here for a convention, or to gamble. One thing they have in common though is that Vegas is a melting pot; there is something here for everyone. The high roller seeking a luxurious experience, comes in a private jet, stays in a lavish villa, to the average person that’s part of a tour group that’s here for three or four days looking for a good time – and everyone in between. There’s a lot you can learn from that confluence of humanity, and how to appeal to all of those groups.
On the other hand, there is another learning that comes from this city; while the creation of brand and understanding a demographic is very important, this is a market that turns over every couple of days. It changes every single day; the need to create experiences, and to address the needs of an ever-changing, constantly fluid market, is quite intense. As an agency we have the ability to do work and messaging that drives brand awareness and drives that experiential side of someone’s travel experience, but also we to do tactical work because we have to drive revenue for our clients. We know they have to put heads in beds and butts on seats, and we have to turn business on a daily basis. It’s a dynamic and intense marketplace, and a lot of our clients outside the market recognise the tenacity and intensity that we function with as a company.

CI: Vegas is quite unique in a lot of ways, but notably, unlike another visitor attraction like, say, Disney World, people come to Vegas for a lot of different reasons – exhibitions, gaming, tourism. At Disney World, people go for one reason; with this in mind, can you apply the lessons you have learned in Las Vegas to, say, a Macanese casino, where the visitors will be 99.9% Chinese, and are there for one reason only?
JS: Interestingly, yes, I think they are. Human behaviour is pretty consistent; you may find that in Macau a customer is focussed on things slightly differently, that the gaming component of the experience might be more at the forefront for their customers over what it is in Las Vegas. That’s been a shift, as 20 years ago 75% of total revenue in Vegas came from gaming, that’s down to about 45% now. Vegas has expanded as a destination-travel market by offering much more in the way of experiences. Macau will probably get to that degree in time, but right now it’s primarily the focus of a burgeoning new market that is catering pretty exclusively to the gambler with all the ancillary services as secondary.
It’s a matter of degree. In essence you are trying to attract somebody’s attention; we’re storytellers. We’re trying to create an experience for the customer based on where their motivations lie. So the learnings from Las Vegas are totally relevant but with a slightly different skew. We have clients that are non-gaming, that are in hospitality or the restaurants business, it’s a matter of applying the luxury and lifestyle component and what we know to be true for those audiences.

CI: How did you end up working with Galaxy Macau?
JS: We’ve been fortunate that our work and reputation has driven a good portion of our business development, so people do tend to seek us out. With Galaxy, we had a great relationship with their CEO who came from Vegas; we worked with him on the Planet Hollywood brand that we helped reposition and relaunch here on the Strip. The success of that work and that relationship led us to Galaxy when he moved to a new position.
It’s a testament to what I’ve been saying that we have been able to cross cultural boundaries with the same sort of understanding of human behaviour and what motivates people in this vertical; the same is true for Solaire which is a brand we launched in March in Manila. We have had to learn Philippine culture and understand what motivates that audience.
We’re launching a huge property in the Bahamas, Baha Mar, in December 2014, which is a $3.5bn resort which will cater largely to a US audience but there is a lot about the Bahamas that is quite unique and that we have had to entrench ourselves in. It’s all about insight, learnings and cultural sensitivity – about creating experiences based on what the end user wants.