Atlantic City has an image problem. Now, 25 years after the city tried to save itself by embracing gambling, and nearly 40 years after the 1964 Democratic National Convention ingrained in the national psyche that Atlantic City was the toilet bowl of New Jersey, tourism officials say they are finally going to do something about it.
They're going to come up with a new slogan. It seems the current motto - "America's Favorite Playground" - has died a slow death. A new slogan has been in the works for several months now, with a team of consultants conducting surveys and focus groups - a $110,000 effort. The final catch phrase and logo will be unveiled in October.
Why now? Tourism officials decided that with Atlantic City's casino industry undergoing a $1.8 billion building boom, it was time for them to up their publicity efforts to boost its visitors.
It's needed. The number of visitors has held steady at about 33 million annually in recent years. And some analysts are concerned that the $1 billion Borgata, the first new casino since 1990, may not do enough to lure more visitors and grow the gambling market at a time when the resort is facing intense competition from surrounding states.
Enter the Atlantic City Convention and Visitors Authority. "The main thing we want to do is to get people to look at Atlantic City in a new light," said Sara Lindkrantz, vice president of tourism and communications for the authority.
But Atlantic City has failed in its quest for the perfect slogan before. Repeatedly.
Anyone remember "Turn on the A.C.?" Despite a $1 million ad campaign, people associated A.C. with air conditioning. Then there was "The New Atlantic City - We're Betting a Billion on It." That never caught on. And long ago, people stopped believing Atlantic City was "The Queen of Resorts."
For many years, Atlantic City has been stuck on a playground theme. "The World's Playground" was what they called the Steel Pier way back when it opened in 1920. That later morphed into "The World's Famous Playground," which later became "The World's Playground.... Again." Since 1995 it's been "America's Favorite Playground."
But all the talk of playgrounds made Atlantic City sound like it was supposed to be a place for kids. Sure, there are piers, beaches and salt water taffy. And Gov. James E. McGreevey keeps talking about making Atlantic City into a "family destination."
But the authority found that most tourists didn't buy it. Instead, people tend to think of Atlantic City as a gambling joint, a place where a guy can go to roll the dice or patronize a strip joint.
Then there's the fear factor: A lot of out-of-towners are just too afraid to venture off the Boardwalk.
"It is surrounded by a slum," one person surveyed by phone said. "It's like something out of a Stephen King movie. It's creepy and I don't like it."
So the authority and its team came up with a few test "concepts" - phrases to run by focus groups and build sample slogans from. Among them: "Nothing Like It on the East Coast." "There's a Certain Mystique." "Atlantic City Is an Island Resort." "The Fun Just Keeps Getting Better." "Think of It as Entertainment for Adults."
The last tested positively, except for one thing: Most people surveyed thought the term "adult" was X-rated. The prim and proper Convention and Visitors Authority wants to leave that niche to Las Vegas, which long ago ditched its attempts to market itself as a place for families.
These days, the city casinos are promoting erotic shows and sexy night spots. The new Las Vegas slogan, which has been met with rave reviews, is: "What happens here, stays here." So Atlantic City changed the concept from which it will build its slogan to... "The Grown-Ups' Resort."
You see, the authority wants to get away from the playground theme, but it doesn't necessarily want to alienate families. "Grown-ups" is more family-friendly.
"There's some wonderful attractions in the area for families," Lindkrantz said. "We're not going to put signs on the Expressway saying, "Families go home."' Despite its history of failed slogans, some still think the right one will help draw more visitors.
"I think it's critical to Atlantic City's future success," said Michael Pollock, publisher of the Gaming Industry Observer. Others aren't so sure.
"Does a Band-Aid cure cancer?" asked Nick Wreden, author of "FusionBranding: How to Forge Your Brand for the Future." "Changing a tagline is nothing more than a feel-good way to convey the illusion of action. In the end, it will have as much chance of succeeding as hitting a million-dollar slot jackpot with your first pull."