LAS VEGAS -- Other than the shell of the building, not much remains from the Rat Pack-era Sahara following the property’s $415 million transformation into the SLS Las Vegas Hotel Casino.
But operators of 1,600-room Strip hotel-casino, which opens Aug. 23, aren’t letting memories of the Sahara fade away.
The Sahara’s relevance on the Strip in 1960s Las Vegas is a primary feature of the recently launched $5.2 million marketing campaign to promote the unveiling of the SLS Las Vegas.
Under the title “Be Legendary,” images from the 1960s Sahara are brought together with similar photos from today. The idea is for characters from the bygone era of the Sahara to connect with their counterparts 50 years later at the SLS.
“It’s a way to target the customer market of today that wants to be part of a purely lifestyle property, while honoring the heritage of the Sahara,” said Veronica Smiley, chief marketing officer for Los Angeles-based SBE Entertainment Group, LLC, which owns the SLS with San Francisco-based private equity firm Stockbridge Real Estate.
The campaign uses photos shot by British photographer Terry O’Neill, who captured the Beatles, Frank Sinatra, the Rolling Stones and Sean Connery on film during the 1960s and 1970s. Fashion and lifestyle photographer Anna Wolf, whose work has appeared in Glamour and The New York Times Style magazine, provided the accompanying modern-day photos.
One ad features O’Neill’s image of Sammy Davis Jr. performing at the Sahara side-by-side with a photo of entertainers inside The Sayers Club, the SLS Las Vegas centerpiece nightclub attraction.
The advertising campaign targets key Las Vegas feeder markets — such as Southern California, Chicago and the Southwest — through print, digital and social media placements.
“The budget may seem supertiny compared to our competitors, but we’re thinking smart and using a platform nobody else has,” Smiley said. “The goal is to create a massive buzz and awareness.”
Other ads depict gambling in two different eras and women in the 1960s getting ready for a night out on the town next to a similar photo of their 21st-century counterparts. One ad shows four men from the 1960s walking near the Sahara entrance while they appear to admire a group entering the SLS Las Vegas in 2014.
DISTINGUISHING A NEW CASINO
Smiley acknowledges unveiling a Strip casino can be tricky business.
The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, for example, won national advertising awards and drew attention for its edgy “The Right Amount of Wrong,” marketing campaign when the resort opened in late 2010.
But the stylish ads never translated into profits.
SLS Las Vegas officials know they need to stand out as the Strip’s newest resort. But it won’t matter if customers don’t spend money in the casino or the nearly two-dozen restaurants, nightlife locations and retail outlets.
The SLS Las Vegas will carry O’Neill’s images associated with the advertising campaign inside the property. Prints of photos will be displayed in the hotel’s rooms and suites. Carpeting along the property’s public areas will include vintage Sahara branding characteristics.
Smiley hopes SBE Las Vegas will engage customers through social media.
“We have a thriving social media community of millions who engages with us daily, and the campaign activations are a way of offering them an opportunity to make it their own and tell us what ‘Be Legendary’ means to them,” she said.
SBE is not relying on finding all-new customers for SLS Las Vegas.
Earlier this year, SBE said the SLS Las Vegas would become part of the Preferred Hotels & Resorts guest loyalty program, which includes 450 independently owned hotels and resorts.
In June, SLS Las Vegas became affiliated with a new independent hotel collection through Hilton Worldwide, allowing the property to tap into the Hilton HHonors customer loyalty program, which has 40 million members
SBE CEO Sam Nazarian called the deal with Hilton “an important relationship” for SLS Las Vegas.
The new advertising campaign targets SBE customers of the company’s booming nightlife and restaurant business, which has a loyalty program with more than 5 million names in its database. Southern California, a key target for SLS Las Vegas, is home to 60 SBE-operated restaurants and nightclubs.
Also, SBE operates two SLS hotels in Beverley Hills, Calif., and Miami’s South Beach. The SLS New York is scheduled to open in 2015. Other SLS hotels are planned for Philadelphia, Seattle, the Miami neighborhood of Brickell, and China.
In June, the $3.5 billion Baha Mar development in the Bahamas announced SBE will build a 300-room SLS hotel as part of the multifaceted project. The SLS will also include 107 residential units.
COMBINING POPULAR NAMES
Smiley said the SLS Las Vegas is considered “an SBE playground.” The hotel-casino marks the first time much of the company’s popular businesses are situated under one roof.
Besides the hotel, SBE will offer restaurants, such as Bazaar Meat by Jose Andres, Katsuya by Starck, Umami Burger, The Sayers Club, 800 Degrees, Cleo, Ku Noodle and The Griddle Cafe.
“There might some restaurants our guests haven’t tried,” Smiley said. “SLS Las Vegas allows them to sample the entire SBE platform.”
SLS Las Vegas includes a reconfigured 60,000-square-foot casino with 80 table games, 800 slot machines and a William Hill plc-managed racebook and sportsbook.
In 2012, SBE announced an agreement with Los Angeles retailer Fred Segal to place seven outlets at the property.
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