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A New Kind of Branding Spin

Interested in buying 100,000 square feet of brand exposure right on the Vegas strip?

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Las Vegas already has a pyramid, a sphinx, an Eiffel Tower and the gondola canals of Venice. And when developer Howard Bulloch is finished, the city will have another new toy: the largest Ferris wheel in the United States. Set to open late next year, the SkyVue will tower 500 feet above the strip across from the Mandalay Bay, whose roof it’ll top by 50 feet. A contraption that big will also have a huge amount of surface area—visible from anywhere in the Las Vegas Valley. Following this yet?

“We were bold or crazy enough to ask the county commission if we could put a 50,000-square-foot LED sign on either side of the wheel,” Bulloch said. The county (shock of shocks) said yes. Which means that SkyVue won’t just be a major tourist attraction, it’ll be the largest physical branding vehicle in the country.

It will be, that is, for a high-rolling brand. Bulloch’s plans include category exclusives for the wheel—one brand each for automotive, beverage and electronics—and the three takers will share time on the big boards (each of which, by the way, has more LED signage than Times Square) and throughout the wheel itself, which includes retail and convention space, and 32 passenger gondolas that Bulloch envisions as airborne brand showrooms. The auto sponsor, for example, can outfit it with car seating it wants to show off. “We’ll give people a chance to sit in the leather seats and even buy the product on sight,” Bulloch said. “This is really experiential marketing on steroids.”

It’s also not likely to come cheap, in view of SkyVue’s expected 4 million riders a year. Bulloch won’t disclose fiscal terms or reveal the brands he’s talking with, but said, “We’re working with a number of them now and narrowing it down.”

So, is this a marketing miracle or branding boondoggle? “I see this as a win for the brand that can afford it,” said John Parham, president of brand-extension agency Parham Santana. “The ancillary benefits are huge. Think of the millions of visitors sharing videos and photos with their friends.”

“I’m not going to be the guy to say they can’t do something in Las Vegas,” added Robert Rukstalis, president of New York-based outdoor marketing firm Massivemedia. “I’d compare this to any brand-ego purchase, places where brands can spend an unbelievable amount of money to create a one-of-a-kind experience—like race-car marketing or stadium naming.”

Actually, he’s dead-on. The name of the wheel is for sale too.