“There’s a lot of ways to look at whether advertising works or not; you can make it a discussion about creative, placement, how many words go on a billboard… but one of the things we want to talk about is measurement,” said Carcamo. “As casino marketers, we spend a lot of money on our reinvestment and direct mail programs. We can look at a piece of paper and see exactly what we’re getting for that dollar we put out there. Advertising has always been in this more nebulous category. There’s always a conversation about whether it’s something to keep in the budget or not.”

Our opening keynoter at Casino Marketing & Technology Conference, Michael Perhaes, vice president of corporate marketing, Wind Creek Hospitality, took a shot at it.

“At Wind Creek Hospitality, we have a certain amount of money we can spend each year on acquisition, as opposed to direct marketing,” he said. “All in, we look at five major markets, we measure the effectiveness of various channels of marketing in each of them and we turn the dials up and down during the course of the year, depending on how well we’re doing.”

For Wind Creek, there are two major areas of importance:  brand awareness, particularly in competitive markets; and acquisition, or how many folks can they get into their database as new customers so that, later on, they can direct market to them. Wind Creek advertises all over Alabama, parts of Georgia, Florida and Mississippi. Their five key markets—where they advertise on television, radio and outdoor—are Montgomery, Atlanta, Mobile, Birmingham and Pensacola.

“We can go back into those DMA markets with surveys, measure reach effectiveness and decide if we’re spending our money wisely,” said Perhaes. “In other words, if I go into Atlanta and I ask people if they can name five casinos and Wind Creek pops up, that’s unaided awareness and that’s good. On the other hand, if I ask them how they heard about Wind Creek—that’s aided awareness—and they say, ‘I saw your TV spot,’ or, worse, they say they saw our ad on top of a taxicab, which we don’t do. But those are the types of responses that we look for. How are we penetrating markets and how are we growing our brand awareness.”

Ryan Meister, director of marketing at Biloxi, Miss.-based Treasure Bay Casino, said he defends his ad budget almost every week and that his focus is on the “second-stop” market. “We’re one of the smaller properties on the coast and we don’t have the budgets that the other casinos have, so they can create awareness outside this market; we really focus on local advertising,” he said. “We have to make sure that when they are coming down 110 or I-10 and they’re coming into the market, they see something about Treasure Bay. We can’t reach outside this market, but we can reach them when they’re here.”

Agencies, for their part, often find themselves in the same situation as their clients, only they have to defend the ad budget to the clients themselves.

“You have to make sure that everyone understands the goals that you are trying to accomplish, and you measure the effectiveness based on those goals” said Catherin Patterson of Austin, Texas-based M Partners Co. “Awareness is great, but if you’re in an acquisition program, you measure that through the number of new card sign-ups. You measure according to priorities and goals.”

“I would add, from a goals perspective, that the timing of when those review periods happen is really important as well,” said Sarah Jones, president, Red Square Gaming, Mobile, Ala. “Certainly, as we’ve all learned, there are outlying factors that can affect advertising effectiveness.”

Properties that are just getting their feet wet in terms of effectiveness measurement should be prepared to invest some money to get started. But the cost needn’t be prohibitive. “Some properties might already have a program in place where they’re measuring a baseline, other properties may not,” said Jones. “There are a lot of ways to gain those numbers without spending an exorbitant amount of money on research, but some research is necessary to know what the starting point is.”