ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. – Knowing their resort has a lot going for it — and a lot of challenges potentially holding it back — Atlantic City tourism officials commissioned a survey of potential vacationers.
It found that 85 percent view the seaside gambling resort as "a great place for a quick, spontaneous getaway" and even more said it has a "variety of appealing activities."
But the same online survey also found that only 21 percent of respondents consider Atlantic City a "very clean place to visit."
Those findings go the heart of what Atlantic City tourism officials hope to address with a new $20 million ad campaign designed to attract more visitors, more quickly.
The "Do AC" campaign has a new element, urging people to do it now. Most of the more than 3,000 TV ads, 5,000 radio commercials, and print and online ads starting next week end by featuring a specific Atlantic City event on a specific date.
Liza Cartmell, president of the Atlantic City Alliance, the new marketing arm of the casinos that was formed as Gov. Chris Christie's five-year plan to turn around the struggling resort, said the survey results were a classic good news, bad news situation.
"When you look at 85 percent of the people who say it's a great place for a getaway, but only 21 percent think it's a clean place, that is the perception," she said. "And that is what we're battling."
The city has undertaken massive cleanliness efforts over the past two years, including more litter pickup, power-washing sidewalks and the installation of 990 seagull-proof trash cans on the Boardwalk. But clearly, not enough people know about those things.
The Alliance has a $30 million budget to carry out a massive advertising campaign, something that has been lacking here for years, even when Atlantic City was the nation's second-largest gambling market after Nevada; it has since fallen behind Pennsylvania into third place.
Since hitting a high of $5.2 billion in 2006, Atlantic City's casino revenues have fallen to just over $3 billion last year as neighboring states continue to open new casinos and expand the offerings at existing ones.
That prompted Atlantic City to focus much more intently on the things it offers to visitors that don't involve gambling. The city was touted as an ideal place for a girls' night out, for guys' bachelor parties, as a thumping nightspot, a place for a spa or golf day, and a mecca for fine dining with world-famous chefs serving their fare by the ocean.
The Alliance started the popular and widely distributed "Do AC" campaign last year, aimed at improving the resort's image and consciously leaving gambling out of the equation.
All those non-gambling things are back again this year — along with cards, betting chips and casino tables. One print ad proclaims "Your tables are ready," and shows photos of a restaurant table, a massage table and a casino table.
This year's campaign is much more targeted to specific events and dates. The idea is not just to think positively about the idea of doing AC, but to actually do it, right away.
The last image on most of the TV ads is a tag line urging the viewer to "Do AC" on a certain date, like the Atlantic City Air Show on June 26, its Fourth of July fireworks display, a Boardwalk rodeo Oct. 5-6, and of course, the return of the Miss America pageant in September.
The campaign will include a mobile "Do AC Roadshow" in the northeast including New York, Philadelphia and Baltimore. It will likely involve semi-trailers brought to public places to promote Atlantic City.
"For example, in July, the hottest month of the year, we represent sea breezes, relaxation and cooling off, so maybe we'll do hydration and cooling stations to get the idea across that we're all about cooling off in Atlantic City," Cartmell said.
The trailers will include interactive features and staff will hand out gifts and prizes.
The campaign also features tongue-in-cheek ads aimed at competing casino markets. For instance, one bound for New York's congested Hudson River crossings says "Tunnels are made to escape. Do AC." And one for roads leading into Philadelphia, one of Atlantic City's main gambling competitors, says, 'You're heading in the wrong direction. Do AC."
Wayne Parry can be reached at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC