6 Feb

Australian casino brand SkyCity defends poorly timed ad campaign

If you live in Australia and are above the age of 21, chances are the name SkyCity rings a resounding bell, regardless of your views towards gambling. Headquartered in New Zealand, the SkyCity Entertainment Group is one of four major casino operators in Australia. Having undergone some extremely negative press in recent months, some say the company’s new, costly ad campaign was very poorly timed.

SkyCity casinosThere are two key issues that must be addressed surrounding the casino operator’s new ad campaign. First is the image SkyCity is blatantly attempting to project, and second is the slew of negative feedback the brand has received recently due to a deal with the government that could cost taxpayers over $100 million.

Back in 2013, SkyCity Entertainment Group negotiated a deal with the government. The casino group would invest $402 million into the construction of the New Zealand International Convention Center in Auckland, capable of accommodating up to 3,500 simultaneous conference delegates. In exchange for covering the projected $402mm cost of the development, the government agreed to long a list of terms from the casino and entertainment group.

For starters, SkyCity’s license expiry would be extended from 2021 to 2048, and the company would be allowed to operate the convention center for a minimum of 35 years. In addition, the casino group would be permitted to install 230 more pokies and 40 more table games at its Australian casinos. Poker machines would be allowed to accept notes higher than $20, and they would be granted the right to incorporate non-cash TITO and card-based gaming technology at all of their automated tables and pokies.

It was a win-win for all involved, right up until the estimated cost for the convention center skyrocketed to an additional $128 million late last year. Of course, the covering of any additional costs was not part of the agreement for SkyCity, which meant taxpayers could be responsible for picking up the additional 9-figure tab. SkyCity became an easy target for negative publicity and their reputation in the eyes of the public immediately plummeted.

Now, with the start of the new year, the casino group has invested an untold amount of money – money that many feel would have been put to better use by flowing into the excess cost of the convention center – to launch a new ad campaign. Spanning television commercials, radio advertisements, billboards and beyond, the 6-week campaign is reportedly the most expensive by SkyCity in a very long time, and the message isn’t sitting well with most.

Instead of addressing the situation at hand, offering any kind of supplementary resolution or perhaps, at the least, some type of apology, analysts say SkyCity is attempting to gloss over its soiled façade. The ads depict employees of the company, mostly from the hospitality side, speaking openly about their positive experiences with the organization.

Brandon Wilcox, the Managing Director of Evolve Marketing, said the public will find the ads are little more than “a clear case of good-washing.” With barely any mention of the company’s casino operations, he said he believes the public will find them “unbelievable”, resulting in a probable backfire of their actual intentions.

“People aren’t stupid,” explained Wilcox. “The public know that at its core it’s a gaming organization.” Wilcox went on to say that the campaign’s timing was poor, and SkyCity would have been better off not publishing the ads at all. “I think they should first solve the issue before they start trying to build goodwill.”

Colin Espiner, a spokesman for the casino company, defended their marketing tactics by saying SkyCity had planned the campaign well in advance of the negative press. He said their intentions were to highlight “areas of the business that perhaps people didn’t know about, particularly in the hospitality side.

“This really wasn’t an attempt to counter any recent negative publicity because this campaign well pre-dated that,” said Espiner, explaining that the preparations for the ad took about a year before they began filming in October 2014. “We had no idea we would end up with this funding gap in December.”