Casino credit card hits jackpot with mail

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While the number of credit card solicitations continues to rise every year - there were more than 6 billion in 2005, according to Mail Monitor - response rates have been declining. But one company appears to have bucked the trend, delivering average response rates four times the industry norm.

The Arriva credit card was introduced in July by Global Cash Access Holdings Inc., which operates about 70 percent of the ATMs in casinos. The company aimed to launch a branded credit card that served frequent casino visitors with good credit while taking advantage of the list of those same consumers it had accumulated as the operator of all those ATMs.

"[GCA was] already working with casino patrons who were dipping their credit cards in its ATMs for cash advances, and it saw an opportunity to provide a better product than what was available in the marketplace," said Will Metzger, account director at ad agency RowenWarren, which developed Arriva's marketing campaign.

Many card companies charge higher-than-average rates to casino patrons asking for cash advances and don't offer them grace periods or rewards points, he said.

In contrast, the Arriva card offers an interest-free grace period on cash advances, charges lower fees and interest rates on advances than many cards and gives rewards points for advances. The card can be used in the 800-plus U.S. casino locations that are GCA customers, and rewards points can be used for cash back on the casino floor, show tickets, spa packages or travel.

"GCA looks at casino patrons who are there for entertainment purposes and doesn't discriminate against them the way that other credit card companies do," Mr. Metzger said. Other card companies often don't view cash advances by casino patrons as an entertainment expenditure, he said.

To introduce the Arriva card to casino patrons, RowenWarren, New York, developed an integrated marketing campaign that includes a Web site, direct mail, take-away brochures and print ads.

The initial direct mail drop in July to 100,000 names tested three formats. One was a branding piece that sought to capture the excitement of Las Vegas, casinos and the gambling lifestyle through imagery and copy. It also offered 5,000 bonus points for signing up.

The branding direct mailer employed images of a man playing poker, a woman getting a massage and several men in a limousine. The copy reads: "The Action. The Rewards. The Excitement. Are You In?" The campaign's "Are You In?" tagline was developed to invite people to participate in the adventure of a casino trip and to tap the aspirations of gaming patrons.

A second mail piece promoted a specific hotel and casino in Las Vegas with an offer for two days and one night free and $50 free slot play. The third mailer resembled the credit card offers consumers get in the mailbox daily.

The average response rate was about four times the 2005 industry average of 0.3 percent, though the branding piece produced an even higher rate. In addition, 1,700 consumers have become Arriva cardholders, and in-casino transactions have surpassed $6.5 million.

Branding generally is missing from credit card companies' direct marketing efforts, Mr. Metzger said. He cited Capital One: The "What's in Your Wallet?" TV ads have a brand message, "and then I get the direct mail and I don't see any connection between the two."

Several more casino-specific mail drops have occurred since July, with GCA, Las Vegas, combining the hotels' mailing list with its own. But the campaign kicks into high gear in January. In 2007, GCA will drop 200,000 mail pieces monthly for the Arriva card. The direct mail itself will be a combination of branding and casino-specific pieces. RowenWarren also is testing segmenting the audience further.

"There's a difference between people who go to casinos as destinations and people who go to local casinos," Mr. Metzger said. "We'll be exploring messaging in this area."

The Web site, which launched in July, also takes off next year with search engine optimization, pay-per-click advertising, sponsored content and banner ads.

In 2007, Arriva and RowenWarren begin broader advertising for the card in selected casino and consumer outlets. So far, ads have appeared in casino-related consumer and trade publications.

The Arriva card's value proposition and GCA's targeted mailing list are spurring this campaign's success, Mr. Metzger said, along with RowenWarren's ability to put a branding message into the direct mail piece.

"What RowenWarren does is figure out how to do branding and direct marketing at the same time," he said. "When you do it right, it really works."

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