A little savvy marketing and a lot of real value can bring about some heavenly results

I’m usually not a huge fan of big, expensive advertising campaigns (I can see my inbox filling up now with nasty notes from the ad guys). Sure I know that such campaigns can support a brand, even drive traffic to a casino property. It’s just that they’re typically so hard to measure. Ok, I spent a million bucks on the campaign, what is my R.O.I? Ad guys typically grapple with that question.

But I actually found a casino ad campaign that I liked, plus I believe it supported the casino’s strategic goals and stole some market share from nearby competitors as well.

Meet Michael Gaughan’s South Point Casino Hotel in Las Vegas, and its Cash Back Angels Campaign. But first a little background is in order.

Michael Gaughan is a savvy locals’ casino operator in Las Vegas and the developer of the “Coast” casino brand (Barbary Coast, Suncoast, Gold Coast, etc.). At the time he was building his newest Coast property, South Coast, in a growing but then relatively undeveloped area on South Las Vegas Boulevard (several miles past the airport), he sold his Las Vegas casino empire, including South Coast, to Boyd Gaming. South Coast subsequently underperformed, and Boyd Gaming ended up selling it back to Michael Gaughan (for a lot less than it cost to build). Gaughan immediately renamed the property as “Michael Gaughan’s South Point Hotel and Casino” and returned to personally run it.

Got it? He built what is now “South Point,” sold it, bought it back and began the many changes to make it more profitable.

To compete with Station Casinos, Boyd Gaming and other tough Las Vegas locals market competitors, South Point started a campaign called “Don’t Be Fooled,” highlighting the superior value of the points earned in the South Point players club, and that all of the points could be used for cash back, unlike in the major competitors’ clubs. South Point Marketing Director Tom Mikovitz looked for an advertising campaign to drive this message home. And voila, The Cash Back Angels were born.

The Cash Back Angels are sort of like slot hosts turned Charlie’s Angels, complete with feathery, sexy costumes having angel wings. The Angels are all young, attractive women, who in the ad campaign appear in a variety of scenes at the South Point Casino – they wave a wand at a customer’s slot machine, and a blizzard of cash back ensues; they “fly in” (on harnesses attached to ceiling tracks) and whisk away the marketing guy, Mikovitz; they strut through the casino à la Charlie’s Angels (you really need to check this all out at www.southpoint.com or at cashbackangels.com).

The Cash Back Angels instantly became South Point celebrities, and many viewers who saw the Angel TV ads not only thought that The Cash Back Angels were real South Point employees, but also thought they actually worked there, flying in to give South Point players their cash back. Smart guy that Mikovitz is, he told me that South Point is now considering hiring real Angels (whatever those might look like).

On the Cash Back Angels Web site, you can view a hysterical video on “Angel Auditions,” you can “Meet The Angels” and see their “spoof bios” (e.g. “Hope, Age: 247 years old, ‘The Former Tooth Fairy’”) and you can go “Behind The Scenes” to view the making of the Cash Back Angels TV spots. More importantly, you can “Click Here” to “Find Out Why South Point’s Cash Back Angels Are The Best,” and be taken to a comparison chart showing the superior players club benefits at South Point Casino.

But the real upshot of all this is that Michael Gaughan’s South Point Casino Hotel is now successfully slugging it out in the Las Vegas locals casino market against larger competitors with better locations. It has increased market share and improved profitability and is already expanding to meet demand. Is this all because of the Cash Back Angels campaign? Absolutely not – it’s more likely a result of Gaughan being a savvy operator and Mikovitz being an innovative marketer – but the sexy, young Angels didn’t hurt.

So what’s the marketing lesson here? Well, I think it is that if you are to win in a tough competitive casino environment (especially one with countless, demanding local customers) you have to offer REAL value (South Point did that with its aggressive players club offerings). Then you have to communicate that value effectively to an often skeptical audience (what the Cash Back Angels Campaign did). And then you have to deliver on that value every day, not just in “what you give from your wallet,” but in what your employees “give from their hearts,” in every interaction with every customer at every “moment of truth.”

Something tells me that South Point is delivering on that too. But I still think it would be cool if Angels flew down and delivered your cash back right at the slot machine. And at South Point, I’ll bet it could happen.