Imagining a discussion today with John Romero

October 3, 2023 6:00 PM
  • Dennis Conrad
October 3, 2023 6:00 PM
  • Dennis Conrad

John Romero was my mentor and friend. It has now been eight years since he passed away.

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I realize that many gaming-industry executives today, especially younger ones, might not know who John Romero was and what he did for the casino business. Simply put, he was the master of casino marketing and the minstrel for measurable results. His two books, Casino Marketing and Secrets of Casino Marketing, are industry classics and must-reads for any modern-day casino executive. They contain wisdom that, even as the industry has undergone dramatic changes in the last couple of decades, remains timeless.

If John Romero is known for any two things, I believe they would be that first, effective casino marketing should be driven exclusively by real measurable results. And second, those results are best produced by direct-marketing efforts featuring well-crafted long copy, coming from a gaming executive (usually ghost-written by John Romero himself) who speaks the “language of the player” and tantalizingly hits all the emotional hot buttons in the copy to generate immediate and maximum response.

Most casino ad agencies didn’t believe in John Romero, who scoffed at the mostly immeasurable advertising concepts of “brand awareness,” “total marketing impressions,” and “percentage of mindshare” and laughed at the fancy advertising imagery and overblown and overused claims that might win advertising awards, but didn’t drive any additional casino revenue.

I’ve often wondered since John Romero’s passing what he would have to say about the modern-day casino-marketing world of social media, mass email and text messaging, QR codes, casino influencers, geofencing, and everything else New Age. While I may be a little presumptuous in trying to portray a “John Romero Marketing Gospel” for the 21st century, I don’t think John would have minded and might even have been entertained by my effort to try and bring his relentless logic and passion for real results to today’s swirling trendy world of casino marketing.

So enjoy my imaginary interview with a John Romero if he were still alive today. My guess is that this would either give John a good chuckle or he’d give me another casino-marketing scolding and tell me what he really thought.

DENNIS CONRAD: Hello, John, nice of you to make a trip down from Blackjack Tournament Heaven and share some thoughts on how we casino marketers and operators are doing nowadays.

JOHN ROMERO: Well, I had nothing better to do and those fluffy cumulus clouds are not as comfortable as you might think.

DC: Well, I imagine you’ve probably been watching all that’s been going on in Casino Land over the last decade or so.

JR: Yes, I have. And it seems to me that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

DC: What do you mean?

JR: Well, I’ve been cheering all these new analytical tools that have hit the casino world, but I still don’t see enough revenue-driving tools and tactics that move all those damn measurement needles, like increased win and improved profits. I still see a lot of casino advertising with the same pretty pictures and overhyped words like “world class,” “fantastic,” and “amazing.” No one is talking about the chef’s new prime rib recipe for the slot tournament dinner or the valet parker who remembers your name from your last visit and will offer to clean your windshield, or the slot progressive jackpot that has hit four times in the last month and is probably due to hit again any day now. It still looks like casinos are talking to fantasy customers who like to have smoke blown up their behinds, instead of some regular casino nuts who just want a decent gamble, some good grub, and employees who treat them like real people.

DC: But hasn’t the world changed, John? Now everyone is on their phones and they have the attention span of a gnat. So shouldn’t marketing tactics change right along with them, to hit them where they live, whether that’s with 100 words or 140 characters?

JR: You know, I was called “outdated” in my day and God knows what they would call me now. I recognize the vast power and potential of all these new social-media and marketing tools. But if all we’re doing is using them to spam unqualified suspects with messages that don’t connect with our unique, and profitable, players, then what are we accomplishing? I’m sure 20% of our customers still drive 80% of our revenues and the top 2% of our customers are really valuable. I still say let me write a 3- or 4-page letter to the players we love and who love us. Let me talk about all the cool experiences that matter to them, instead of all the crap that matters to us. Not only will I move the needle, I’ll break the needle.

DC: So how does today’s casino marketer take the best of “Romero marketing” and blend it with “New Age marketing?”

JR: Well, I’m not really sure. Not many listened to my gospel 20-30 years ago either. But I will say this: Many new marketing tools like email and text messaging are cheap. Use them and replace a lot of that advertising crap that only makes the GM or the Board happy. Don’t act like direct mail is dead. People will read it and respond if you make it interesting to them and not the whole world! Do you think I wrote 3- and 4-page direct-mail letters because I loved to write? Hell no! I wrote them because I could be a real person behind the words and I knew I could weave so much cool-sounding stuff into 3 pages that my readers couldn’t resist coming in for a visit. And they often insisted on “seeing that nice GM who wrote them such a nice letter.”

DC: Any final thoughts, John, before you head back to the finals of the Blue-Sky Blackjack Tournament?

JR: Yeah, it’s still all about moving the needle. I knew how to move the needle. Too many marketers out there are still not focused on how to move the needle. Unfortunately, their whole career ends up as dancing around the needle. And that can be like dancing with the devil. Not that I would know.

Earlier posts by Dennis

A holiday weekend in Las Vegas

It’s okay, they won’t know or care!

Crazy ideas I fell for

The Blonde Elvis

How to stop gambling from being banned

What about these Electronic Crap Games?

Some overdue recognition

My top 10 casino pet peeves

Service you can trust. Really.

I Need Help!

Top 10 things casino players hate

Making lemons out of lemonade

David Kranes: The most unappreciated man in gaming

Two Dinosaurs Walk into a Bar

The magic of Barona

My Top 10 big-picture casino-industry trends

I am your customer

The Rad Bar — If I owned a video poker bar

Stop eroding player value

What? You’re still alive?