Open Letter to Atlantic City: Is This New Ad Campaign Really the Right Way to Go?

Dear Atlantic City:

You know we love you. We come to you for gambling, for bachelor and bachelorette parties, for rides on your charming jitneys, for strolls on your boardwalk, for indulgence in the nostalgia for your bygone days, for air shows, for golf tournaments, for conventions and gymnastics competitions, for prize fights, for shopping at outlets, for rides that make children vomit.

We come for overnights either sincerely or ironically. We pull for you when you’re down and out, as you were during Sandy, and we feel appropriately conflicted as Pennsylvania overtakes you in gaming revenues. We brag to out-of-towners how close you are even as we concede that we would be hard pressed to buy property within your confines.

It may be a push-pull kind of love story we have with you, Atlantic City, but it is a love story. And when push comes to loving shove, we are on your side. Which is why we feel we must tell you the honest truth.

This new advertising campaign you’re launching? The sort of reinvention of the “Do AC” campaign that you spent $20 million on last year only to see casino revenues drop and hotel visits increase by only a pittance? Maybe you want to hold off on that given the, well, the timing.

We’re talking about those dead bodies that were just found in a room at Revel–a bankrupt hotel and casino that knows plenty about death, in particular death by ten thousand cuts. What a complete and total fiasco that place turned out to be–the star of “Do AC” that turned into a great, big DON’T. With Revel in the news, is it really time to hype a new tourism initiative?

It seems so. According to the New Jersey Star Ledger, you’re going to do it all over again–another $20 million “Do AC” ad campaign–but with more of a casino emphasis this time. The newspaper spoke with Liza Cartmell, the president of the Atlantic City Alliance:

“[Last time] we wanted to stop people in their tracks and say, ‘Wait, there’s no gambling in that ad.’ We don’t need to keep that kind of shock factor this year,” she said.

True. Very true. Because there are other shock factors. Like two dead guests at the flagship hotel.

Atlantic City, you’re in a pickle. You can’t depend solely on casino revenues anymore, so you have to expand the way people see you. But when you try that, casino revenues drop. It’s a tricky balance.

The truth is, beloved AC, we worry you’re just not ready for prime time as a resort destination that’s not focused on gaming. Let’s look at the big picture. Your murder rate went up in 2012. Most of your neighborhoods and landscape are unappealing to the average tourist (and many residents as well). The boardwalk has a number of seedy stores that compromise class, and a lot of the older hotels look their age. You are plagued by political corruption and lack of will.

So $20 million and some terrific new spots. Is it worth it–again? We don’t have the answer, our dear AC, but we have the feeling that the announcement of a perky ad campaign isn’t the right note to strike right now. And that $20 million could be better spent.

Atlantic City ready to ‘Do’ it again [Star Ledger]