Rich Sullivan, CEO of Red Square Agency and its gaming division Red Square Gaming, believes the industry “is in the midst of a gigantic moment of change. We are trying to lead our clients through it”—to reach a generation who watch TV with one eye and a phone screen in their hand.
Alabama-based Red Square employs innovative marketing campaigns using social media and other strategies aimed at Gen X and the millennials.
In 2000 when Sullivan joined the business, founded by his father, it was known as Sullivan St. Clair. “I wanted to grow it from a local semi-regional generalist into a national agency that did top-shelf work,” he recalls. “I was fortunate to hire some smart, talented people.”
In 2008 it became Red Square. “I love the irony of an ad agency named Red Square,” says Sullivan.
It derives from the Sullivan St. Clair logo, which included a red square. “My impetus was to make the company bigger than just a family business,” he says. “I’ve always wondered why agencies are named like law firms. The name is the icon.”
Red Square entered gaming in 2003-2004. Sullivan, who grew up playing cards and made many friends playing on dockside casinos in Biloxi, recalls, “We said, ‘We need a casino account.’ We knocked on lots of doors. Our first gaming account was in Alabama, the Poarch Creek tribe. We have been lucky to grow with them.”
Gaming became 60 percent of their business, prompting a separate division. Clients have included the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma, multiple Hard Rock casinos, the Poarch Creek band, IP Biloxi and Eldorado.
“In the last decade gaming has become a hard category, super high volume. It never stops,” says Sullivan. “That makes it exciting but also a challenge to enter the market. Looking at the competitive landscape, not many agencies are proficient at it. Some understand gaming and are gaming agencies, but are not known for being creative. Then there are creative agencies, but who don’t know what they are getting into. A third agency emerging is a digital agency proficient in interactive media. We think we do all three of those things really well.”
Gaming companies need this approach because the market is becoming saturated, says Sullivan. “It’s a critical mass for casinos, and gaming is embarking on a new chapter. It’s no longer ‘build it and they will come.’ Marketing, branding and advertising will matter. The idea of someone holding a check on a billboard is not going to do it anymore.”
Red Square helped the Hard Rock Tulsa build a mobile game for a Halloween promotion and tie it into a loyalty program. “I think casinos will integrate digital into their traditional campaigns,” says Sullivan. “We think across all media. All the ways work. It’s just reaching people in new ways.
“Casinos will have to adapt to Gen X and the millennial generation faster than they anticipated,” he says. “That will impact player loyalty and the mechanism for developing it. Mobile marketing and the idea of connecting with players with Androids will be a bigger thing to adapt to than what people are thinking right now.”
Gaming saturation and evolving casino demographics are challenging, but present great opportunities. “Casinos that ‘get it’ and are willing to mix it up a little bit will benefit,” he says. “It’s not necessary to blow up an old model. Direct mail, outdoor, television aren’t going away, but are making way for experimentation and adding tools to the marketing arsenal.”
Gaming is still calculating the implications of social media, he says. “The idea that social media will dramatically do something is a hyped-up area of marketing. Social media strategy is not that I have a Facebook page. Where true social media comes into play relates to loyalty. One thing gaming does better than anyone else is loyalty. Casinos need to think in terms of loyalty so they can build their own little niche network.”
Sullivan speculates about turning casino advertising into a game: “How novel would it be to ask people to do something with their phone when they see an adverting spot? There are ways to make things happen by how people walk around now.”