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Best of Liz Benston

Gaming Guru

Liz Benston

Panasonic plays placement to the max

21 November 2007

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- When Planet Hollywood wanted to create a massive message board and video screen for its property, the company turned to Panasonic, the global electronics giant.

Then Planet Hollywood executives asked Panasonic what other attractions the electronics company could dream up.

The conversation, at a lunch meeting nearly two years ago, launched a partnership that eventually would deploy about 3,000 high-definition Panasonic plasmas in hotel rooms and restaurants and atop banks of slot machines - an unprecedented number for the company in any location.

Marketers believe the deal is unique in Las Vegas and part of a more aggressive effort by major brands to pitch products more creatively to an audience too hip and too wealthy for companies to ignore. They predict more high-profile product placement deals in the future, though some hotels may not be as aggressive as Planet Hollywood in wanting to profile an outsider's brand.

Merchandisers want a piece of the Strip, which has become one of the most successful brands of the new millennium, marketers say. And Las Vegas welcomes the attention because of how it cements the town as the epicenter and arbiter of all things cool.

"We respect Las Vegas as a destination city on the scale of the world's great destination cities," said Bob Greenberg, chief marketing officer for Panasonic North America. "This is the place to be."

R&R Partners, which created the ubiquitous "What happens here, stays here" ad campaign for Las Vegas, is receiving a record number of calls from Fortune 500 companies that want to pursue partnerships with casinos, from advertising deals to more complicated marketing arrangements.

R&R Senior Vice President Rob Dondero wouldn't disclose other brands but says the Panasonic relationship is an emerging model for consumer brands that seek to move beyond traditional advertising, which risks becoming stale.

Product placement is one way to do that, and Las Vegas hotels offer a unique opportunity to reach the mass market with the largest possible concentration of people while still maintaining a sexy cachet that can't be replicated elsewhere, Dondero said.

"The best nightclubs and restaurants have spinoffs here and pool areas are now big attractions," he said. "These are things that can't be done elsewhere and carry a certain image and emotional quality. You can go back to Chicago and say, 'I was at the pool at Venetian' and people will say, 'Wow, you're pretty cool.'"

Companies have purchasing agreements with vendors to stock their hotels with high-profile products such as TV screens. But these deals tend to originate in the purchasing department rather than the marketing department, Dondero said.

Panasonic turned the plasmas into something of a themed attraction, such as by placing 32 65-inch Panasonic plasmas above the casino's central bar. One hotel suite features the company's 103-inch plasma, the largest screen on the consumer market.

Panasonic has agreements to supply products for Las Vegas casinos, film studios and other big technology users. This arrangement, however, was a first.

"The people at Planet Hollywood are very marketing oriented," said John Baisley, president of Panasonic's commercial video equipment subsidiary. "They came up with ideas to expose the Panasonic brand." Similar arrangements with Madison Square Garden, Times Square and other venues "tend to be more one-sided" and don't involve nearly as many Panasonic products and services, he said.

Planet Hollywood guests and employees are using Panasonic microwaves, irons, vacuum cleaners, computer servers, laptops and batteries.

And executives are considering designating an area in the casino to showcase new Panasonic technology before it hits the shelves.

Becky Ebenkamp, West Coast bureau chief of Brandweek, a marketing trade publication, said placement deals are becoming more popular, given advertisers' concern that TV viewers, in part because of digital video recorders, are zipping through ads.The Strip also makes sense because advertisers such as Philips, which makes sleek consumer electronics and has given away goody bags to Sundance film festival VIPs, are keen to associate their brands with hipsters, Ebenkamp said.

Panasonic says having its brand name seen and used by tourists, business customers and employees is worth tens of millions of dollars in brand equity.

It was no accident, then, that Panasonic executives were on hand when the former Aladdin hotel was officially rebranded as the high-tech Planet Hollywood resort during the National Association of Broadcasters convention, one of the town's biggest conventions, attended by technology purchasers from around the world. The resort held its grand opening Saturday with celebrity guests and additional venues opening to the public.

"As a global brand, the consumer activity that cycles through Las Vegas, from across the nation and abroad, is valuable," Greenberg said.