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Chris Jones

Nugget Striving to Recall Heyday

2 June 2004

In the early 1980s, then-Golden Nugget owner Steve Wynn placed the downtown Las Vegas resort on the national consciousness using a series of clever television ads in which Frank Sinatra once jokingly asked the young executive to keep his suite stocked with fresh towels.

Neither Wynn nor the late Ol' Blue Eyes is featured in the Golden Nugget's latest marketing campaign, but the property's new owners are optimistic their first major advertising effort will resonate with those who recall the Golden Nugget's heyday -- and the many new customers they'll need to power another golden era for the 1,907-room hotel-casino.

"We want to bring this brand back to center stage, reinforcing everything that the Golden Nugget stood for: class, elegance, service and personality," said Tom Breitling, who with partner Tim Poster purchased Las Vegas' Golden Nugget and its Laughlin sister property from MGM Mirage for approximately $215 million.

"People love the fact that they can meet and greet, say hello to the property owners because you don't see that anymore. When we talk about old Vegas, that's what we're talking about," Breitling said, describing the hands-on management style he and Poster have adopted since state regulators approved their takeover of the properties in late January.

Not surprisingly, those old-school elements are central to the Nugget's new "What is Cool?" ad campaign, which Breitling and Poster developed with Las Vegas-based marketing firm Brown & Partners.

Since mid-May, the companies have used direct mailings, billboards and print ads in national publications such as Esquire, GQ, Conde Nast Traveler, Cigar Aficionado and Sports Illustrated to introduce the gaming public to the resort's new owners and their efforts to revive "Vintage Vegas" in downtown.

Coupled with the June 14 debut of Fox television's new reality show, "The Casino," which was shot on-site at the Golden Nugget, Breitling believes his property could soon regain its erstwhile status as one of Las Vegas' unchallenged must-visit gaming destinations.

"If you go back, it was Caesars Palace and the Golden Nugget. You went to one or the other," Breitling said of a Las Vegas hierarchy not seen for nearly two decades. "As people get to know the level of service that we provide and we continue to reinvest in the property ... I think customers will come down here for a better experience.

"You will see service here, and quality of product, that is much better than many places on the Strip."

Still, getting that message out to the public without alienating the Golden Nugget's current customer base is a tricky proposition, said Rob Catalano, executive creative director and partner with Brown & Partners.

Among the biggest misconceptions is the assumption the Golden Nugget's young owners plan to seek the twenty- and thirtysomething crowds now frequenting the Palms and Hard Rock Hotel, Catalano said. Rather than seek customers 40 and up, he hopes the new spots will appeal to those as young as 30 as well as older customers.

"The important thing about this campaign was to not promise anything the Nugget couldn't deliver," Catalano said. "We're not one of the Strip properties with a big fake Eiffel Tower out front; we're a gaming property that offers a certain luxury and style whose roots are 50 years or so old in classic Vegas.

"Despite all of the corporate stuff that happens on the Strip, I still think that people have the idea that Vegas is a little wild and anything goes. The Golden Nugget can definitely deliver on that."

Added Breitling: "People of all ages can feel hip."

The Golden Nugget's casino odds are now more "player friendly," while ongoing renovations include April's opening of a poker room and this week's expected debut of an expanded high-limit area, Breitling said. Room improvements like plasma television sets are also in the works, he said, as are changes in the hotel-casino's entertainment amenities, including the return of big-name headliners each month.

One element missing from the new campaign is a mention of the Laughlin property. Rod Reber, director of account services and a Brown & Partners partner, said the owners for now hope to "ride the wave" of their Las Vegas campaign before later developing a specific media message for the Colorado River resort town, which he described as a "niche market."

The Golden Nugget's latest ads are slated to run through the end of this year. Breitling declined to disclose the campaign's total cost.