Sky-High Opportunities

Large-scale ad creator sees value in Las Vegas

Consumers are walloped by ads from every which way these days. TiVo-ing is the only escape from a barrage of commercials, and faces on billboards become more familiar than friends and family. So what are advertisers doing to stand out? The answer is to go big, and SkyTag, a Beverly Hills, Calif.-based company that wraps buildings with large-scale print ads, is leading the way.

SkyTag, which has a client list that includes Disney, Sony and Paramount Pictures, has been around since 1969. The company’s work has been present in Las Vegas for more than a decade, beginning in 1998 with a wrap on the side of Luxor to promote Disney’s movie Armageddon.

With clients looking to compete in new ways now more than ever, SkyTag owner Mike McNeilly says that makes Las Vegas all the more appealing. He’s touting the city’s supersize-everything mantra to his clients, who primarily advertise in California and New York.

“When you do a large graphic in a city like L.A., if you’re doing 10,000 to 20,000 [square] feet, that’s huge,” he says. “When you do that in Vegas, that’s just OK. The scale is entirely different.”

McNeilly says 45,000 square feet, or slightly less than the size of a football field without the end zones, is a good starting point for ad wraps in Las Vegas, which ranks No. 3 behind California and New York for both volume and technology. Last year’s ad for Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen on the east side of Luxor was more than 100,000 square feet.

SkyTag, which charges up to $1 million for an ad, is currently behind the faces of Donny and Marie on the Flamingo. The company’s role is to print the client’s artwork on tight-weave mesh and to secure the building spot. In some cases, they’ll work with a company’s creative team to develop a site-specific ad.

Production companies are drawn to ads that make the most impact in a short amount of time, McNeilly says. He contends this tactic is especially important now that movies are being released on DVD more rapidly. “That’s sort of the new marketing strategy. It’s not like the old days where the movies might have a long run,” he says. As an example, SkyTag put up a huge graphic on the L.A. Film Tower on the Sunset Strip for Sherlock Holmes’ Christmas release. Now, the movie already will be available on DVD on March 30.

A larger-than-life ad is a good technique for grabbing consumers’ attention, UNLV marketing professor Mike LaTour says. “To some degree, these type of ads are breaking through that clutter,” he says. “Our sensory expectations have been elevated with the technology of movies.” But, ultimately the ad needs to drive consumers to want more, he says. “Can you get people to a website that will provide information in order to generate more interest?”

There are criticisms against the ads, however. Alan Hess, California-based architecture historian and critic, says building wrap ads really aren’t that artistic. He draws the comparison to Las Vegas’ neon signs, which he says were designed to complement the city’s architecture.

“These wrap ads should be something that’s effective with the landscape. Like a really interesting play on the building,” he says. “If you’re advertising Penn & Teller at the [Rio], make half the building ‘disappear’ with the signage, for instance.”

McNeilly says that as technology in movies such as Avatar is becoming more advanced, his ads are, as well. He’s incorporating advanced graphics and LED lights in upcoming ad campaigns. “The studios want it to pop up,” he says. “Just like there’s 3-D in the theaters, there’s lots of new technology we’re working with.”

So are large static ads on the way out? Not at all, says Chad McCullough, owner of Las Vegas-based Elite Media. The company’s work has included a T-Mobile ad covering nearly half of Mandalay Bay. Elite Media also does LED graphics work and says clients want the best of both worlds—huge in scale and newfangled technology. But McCullough says stationary ads are still valuable because viewers might miss the point of a high-tech ad as they’re driving down the Strip.

Hess doesn’t like to see the buildings used as billboards, but is hopeful because “there’s always an alternative counter-trend,” he says. “Something really good could come of this sign medium. It awaits the right person to see the potential and make a billion dollars off the idea.”

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