‘Playground’ to Mature Into Adult Getaway

NEW YORK Atlantic City has outgrown the “playground” image it has touted since the 1920s and has hired Weber Shandwick to help reposition the city as a quick escape for grown-ups.

The Atlantic City Convention and Visitors Authority, in partnership with the South Jersey Transportation Authority, hired Weber Shandwick in New York to helm its $500,000 public relations effort late last month.

Atlantic City has been selling itself as “America’s favorite playground” since the 1990s, when it took a step back from its nearly 70-year-old tagline, “The world’s favorite playground.” But 600 phone interviews and a series of six focus groups in Boston, Cincinnati and New Jersey revealed that travelers weren’t buying that pitch.

“We asked them, ‘Do you believe that we’re America’s favorite playground?’ and we discovered they did not,” said Susan Ricciardi, director of media relations for the ACCVA. Participants, however, were receptive to the idea of the city as “a getaway for grown-ups.”

Yet the research uncovered that even that image needed a touch up, said Rene Mack, president of travel and lifestyle marketing at Weber Shandwick.

“We were absolutely shocked at the number of people in New York that had not been to Atlantic City in the last 10 to 15 years,” Mack said. “They think it’s all gambling. They think that it’s only seniors going down on the bus.”

The $1 billion, 2,010-room Borgata Resort and Casino confronted a similar problem by hiring the Schadler Kramer Group in San Francisco to craft an $10 million advertising campaign that promoted the property as an upscale destination for adults who might otherwise disregard Atlantic City. Rather than touting the casino, the campaign played up the resort’s nightlife and luxury accommodations.

In addition to the Borgata, the Atlantic City boardwalk has added The Marketplace at Tropicana, a building that hosts six restaurants, Ricciardi said.

Mack said Weber Shandwick won the business because it persuaded the ACCVA to look beyond the blackjack tables. The firm will work to sell not just the city, but the golf courses, beaches and state parks that surround it.

“We need to position it as being more active, vibrant,” Mack said. “It’s a whole region of New Jersey with Atlantic City being the capital. The surrounding areas are a complement to Atlantic City, not competition.”

In addition to crafting a new tagline, Weber Shandwick will work with sister-agency MWW Group in East Rutherford, N.J., and Smith O’Keefe in Atlantic City to create positive media attention, marketing events and consumer products promotions to restore the resort town’s glitz.