Sarah Feldberg
Sarah Feldberg

"Mankind was not born to be bored," starts the video spot for MGM Resorts' first corporate brand campaign. The scene jumps between nightclubs, art installations, Cirque du Soleil shows, bouncing dice and fight night arenas before it lands on the Bellagio fountains as they blast in epic fashion. "We invented MGM to entertain the human race. From the kitchens to the clubs, from the stage to the ring, we are not in the hotel business. We are in the holy sh*t business," the on-screen text continues, the asterisk inserted to keep the message family-friendly.

By the time the nearly three-minute video wraps with the statement "Welcome to the show," we've seen flashes of restaurants, clubs, venues and attractions across the MGM Resorts empire. The Mirage volcano bursting into flame. "Ka" performers flying above the stage. The Golden Knights, the city's newly minted yet highly successful National Hockey League team, celebrating on the ice.

It's a greatest hits montage of MGM spectacle, and the message is clear: "MGM is more than just a green building," said Lili Tomovich, chief experience and marketing officer for MGM Resorts. "We want to really let people know that MGM is more than a casino and hotel company. We're an entertainment company. We exist to wow the human race."

When Tomovich and I first talked about the marketing effort in September she was on the phone from New York, fitting me in during the Skift Global Forum, where the need for a such a campaign was quickly reinforced. Even at a business gathering for the travel industry, she said, many attendees were shocked that the MGM roster includes 27 resorts, 15 brands and 77,000 employees.

But about a week after "Welcome to the show" launched, a gunman opened fire on the Route 91 Harvest Festival at an MGM venue on the Strip, killing 58 and injuring hundreds. As soon as the communications team got word of the tragedy unfolding, they paused all promotional messaging.

"We were able to pretty much shut down all forms of advertising communication within 24 hours," Tomovich said. With the campaign canceled, Tomovich and her team focused on putting out a message of resiliency, strength and gratitude for the support rising from the Las Vegas community, the country and the world.

"We called the spot 'Together we shine,'" Tomovich recalled, and the message, set to a soulful rendition of "This Little Light of Mine," was "that we would overcome this."

The intent was always to relaunch "Welcome to the show" at the appropriate time, after giving the families of victims, company employees and the greater Las Vegas community space to grieve. At the beginning of this year, MGM decided that time was coming.

"It's a new year. It's a fresh start. We have to move forward," said Tomovich, adding that "Welcome to the show" had its second debut during the Oscars broadcast on March 4, with some minor adjustments to copy and footage so none of it would feel inappropriate or insensitive in light of last fall's traumatic event.

The corporate brand campaign, which has been in the works for a number of years, actually has roots dating back to the Great Recession, which walloped Las Vegas with foreclosures and drops in visitation and gaming revenue.

Coming out of the slump, Tomovich said, "We decided [that] to drive our competitiveness and growth we had to start operating as one company." Now that single company is the focus of a shift that reintroduces MGM Resorts as the parent brand and repositions it not as a hospitality company but as an entertainment powerhouse.

"Entertainment is a fundamental human need," said Tomovich. "From the minute babies are born, we try to make them laugh and giggle. Entertainment does change the way people feel in a really positive way. We're all about entertainment. We've got to start telling the world that."

First, however, they had to tell their employees. Tomovich said they spent a year and half training employees and "building the brand from the inside out." The biggest changes were to guest service standards, which are now shared across the entire company with properties customizing how they execute greetings or wow visitors depending on whether they're luxury, ultraluxury or value.

"If we're MGM Resorts, we're delivering a message that it means something to stay at an MGM Resorts property," Tomovich explained.

Rolling out a corporate brand campaign doesn't mean that specific MGM properties will lose their individual branding. "The Bellagio is still the Bellagio. They're still going to have their own advertising, their own campaigns, their own positioning. This is a layer above it."

For Vegas regulars, much of this is old news. Anyone with an M Life Rewards card in their wallet knows that MGM is more than a shiny green building, and anyone who spends consistent time on the Strip knows that casinos are less hotels or gaming venues than tiny cities with heavily patterned carpet and their own distinct scent. Today's Vegas visitor is more interested in the shows and the shops, the food and nightlife than how many craps tables are on the floor or whether a property has "The Walking Dead" slot machines. They come to Las Vegas for the music, the restaurants, the pools and the parties.

The city has already branded itself as the entertainment capital of the world. In the wake of tragedies like the Vegas and Parkland, Fla., shootings, in a moment when political rhetoric seems increasingly polarizing, the message of escapism and entertainment -- the message of "Welcome to the show" -- may be more relevant than ever.

If the campaign is successful, it won't just blast that news flash out to the masses. It will leverage the strengths of all the pieces of the MGM universe, from Bellagio's fountains to Carbone's flambe, to define a whole far greater than the sum of its parts.

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