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West Coast Resorts Revamp Ads

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With aggressive price cuts and a reminder that travel offers freedom, West Coast areas hit hard by the sharp drop in tourism are revamping messages and re-evaluating strategies.

In Las Vegas, where officials are predicting a $61 million loss in convention business, casino advertising suddenly has a much softer message.

Meanwhile, California Gov. Gray Davis last week pledged $5 million toward ads urging residents to vacation in the Golden State. In the past, ad allocations made by executive order have been used only in the event of a crisis, such the state's energy crunch.

Ads will be developed by Mering & Associates, Sacramento, which has worked with the California Division of Tourism for four years. The tag, "Find yourself here," remains.

For Las Vegas, out-of-state visitors are crucial. The strategy is focused on markets a drive or short flight away, such as Southern California, Phoenix, Dallas, Chicago, Houston and San Francisco.

Resorts are also banking on a new 18-week, $13 million campaign from hometown agency R&R Partners for the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority. The work, launched last week, is tagged "Freedom to get away from it all."

In addition to more beauty shots and less humor, the work includes a never-before-released Frank Sinatra song titled "It's Time for You."

Mandalay Resort Group, which owns the Luxor, Circus Circus and Excalibur resorts (all handled by R&R), as well as the Mandalay Bay and Monte Carlo properties (handled by DRGM in Las Vegas), is looking to "take the Las Vegas edge" out of its ads, said John Marz, MRG svp of marketing and PR. Spending has not changed, he said.

For example, Excalibur ads with movie clips of people storming a castle were replaced by direct response ads promoting reduced room rates. Mandalay Bay has dropped "edgy, irreverent" ads, including one that suggests the surgeon general comes to town for a martini. It is now targeting women, whom Marz said are "more hesitant to travel and fly."

The Stardust, which creates ads in-house, is using billboards to tout cheaper rooms, said vp of marketing Jim Seagrave. "We're holding our advertising dollars until we can get a better read on what to do," he said.

"The old spots had an emotional feeling of freedom and carefree frivolity," while the new ones give people permission to get away, said LVCVA representative Erika Brandvik.