A brand geek’s view of Las Vegas

May 8, 2012

Recently, I found myself in Las Vegas, a bastion of branding and consumerism. Not how most describe Las Vegas, you say? While many are gambling, laying poolside, going to shows and participating in unnamed debauchery, we brand geeks find Vegas to be a case study in branding do’s and don’ts.

DO: Have a clear and consistent brand architecture

The physical architecture of Las Vegas is random at best: a skyline occupied by a sphinx, the Brooklyn Bridge, Italian palazzos and the Eiffel Tower. The city’s brand architecture, however, is much more streamlined. Its “masterbrand” is infused everywhere — indoors and out. While Vegas hotels may have their own “product brands”, they all ladder up to the city’s brand.

On the streets of Las Vegas there is a pervasive air of excitement, escapism, possibility and illicitness. In essence, these are the city’s brand values. They have been brought to life for the mass market by a genius marketing campaign, “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas,” one line that encapsulates all four values.

Indoors, many hotels bring their own brand values to the equation. The Wynn hangs its hat on limitless luxury while the Venetian’s Tao Beach epitomizes chic and exclusive. However, these are complements to the masterbrand. No matter where you are in Las Vegas, the experience always ladders up to the city’s values. It’s what the town was built on: gambling, entertainment and the ability to be a version of yourself that others may never see. For a place built on risk, this is the one sure thing.

DO: Know your audience

During this trip, I visited Las Vegas with a newbie who had never been to the desert oasis. As a result, we spent a day being the ultimate tourists, visiting nearly all of the hotels on the strip — from the Mandarin Oriental to the Cosmopolitan, the Bellagio to the Venetian and New York, New York to the Excalibur. What was clearly evident in each hotel was a true knowledge of its audience.

This was never more evident than each evening when we stepped out of the elevator onto the main floor of the Aria, our hotel. I have no complaints about the Aria — our room was impeccable, as was the service and the décor. Yet every evening as we made our way through the lobby filled with scantily clad 20-somethings waiting to get into Haze nightclub, I felt out of place. This was confirmed continually as the hostesses recruiting club-goers never once approached us. Clearly, the Aria was targeting a younger demographic. Perhaps the Bellagio next time.

DO: Incorporate branding elements that speak to multiple senses

At its most obvious, branding in Las Vegas’ manifests itself with an immersive experience.

Many hotels commit to this experience with an overall theme, such as gay Paree or gritty New York. The theme may not be the brand, but the experience that theme provides for the consumer certainly is. It is embodied in the dealers, the cocktail waitresses’ uniforms, the rooms, the logo, the décor and the service. And it extends well beyond what the eye can see.

Every time we returned to the Aria, I could smell that I was home. The hotel pumped a proprietary scent into the casino. I liked it so much I was actually tempted to buy the scent sticks because, of course, they were for sale in the gift shop. When I visited the Cosmopolitan, the lighting was distinct, so much brighter and more invigorating than the usual windowless casino. And at the Bellagio, the carpeting was plush. I mean really plush. My sore feet exhausted from all the walking just didn’t want to leave.

With these immersive experiences also comes the need for escape. The hotels are beds of overstimulation — the sounds of the slot machines, celebrations at the craps tables, the smell of the smoke and the food, the darkness and the crowds. And so, each hotel creates that escape in a manner that complements its brand. For the Aria, it was the spa and the removed mezzanine level. For the Venetian, it was the gondola rides on the canals. And for Caesar’s palace, it was the windowed bar at Rao’s during lunch. Along with the heavenly meatballs, the bright light and quiet surroundings were a welcomed diversion.

DON’T: Decrease the equity of your brand identity

Our hotel was in the middle of the strip with a fantastic 360-view of all the action. Every morning I woke up looking at the sign for the Planet Hollywood hotel. Being my brand geek self, I pointed out to my co-traveler that Planet Hollywood had changed their logo. No longer using the blue and red logo with the globe and starburst, the company had apparently shifted to a very simple, sans serif wordmark.

My non-branding geek co-traveler then asked, “How come the old logo is still on the restaurant across the street?” Directly across the street from each other in the same sightline Planet Hollywood was featuring two completely different logos. Perhaps one was just for the hotel and the other for the restaurant? Perhaps the logo was in transition and the restaurant hadn’t caught up? The answer wasn’t obvious and I was just left thinking that this was a lost opportunity to visually reinforce the brand. If nothing else, it was confusing.

And so ends my brand lessons from Las Vegas. Next stop on the travel log: Alaska. I’ll let you know what I find there.

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