The demanding Zagat Survey rated the off-strip and unknown Rio All-Suite Casino Resort as the best hotel in Vegas. Rio management took a perverse pride in calling themselves the “best-kept secret in town!” But a huge problem loomed. In 1997, their new president, Dave Hanlon, found that repeat customers and slowly spreading word of mouth created enough business for its 1500 suites, but it would never suffice for Rio’s $220 million expansion to 2500 suites, plus Masquerade Village, a complex of gaming, retailing and entertainment.

A month before opening day, Hanlon was shocked that Rio had no advertising or PR planned. He threw the dice and gave us the job of making Rio famous, fast. We took the gamble out of Rio’s enormous 1997 launch. First, Ron Holland and I punched up the logo to Rio...Vegas style! Then we added a compelling identity with the symbolism of a mask, echoing the masquerade theme with the slogan Where the Hidden You comes out to play! The playful graphic image of a mask is at once powerfully visual (especially on famous celebs), mysterious, sexy and more than a little naughty.

Our TV and print campaign starred masked celebrities who dramatized each of Rio’s attractions. Over a driving big band delivering our Rio...Vegas style! showbiz tune, a masked seven-foot Wilt Chamberlain exclaims, Everybody gets a suite big enough for the Big Dipper. Nancy Sinatra, with shoes made for walking, adds, How suite it is! Carol Channing, with “Hello, Dolly” pizzazz, flashes a He-llo, Rio! The brilliant dancer Donald O’Connor sells their nightclub with Put on your dancing shoes and meet me at Club Rio! Baseball Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson chips in with At Rio I’m still an MVP... a Masquerade Village Person! And a provocatively masked Downtown Julie Brown reacts with Who was that handsome masked man? In response to NBC’s Gene Shalit belting out I hear everybody gets a suite, but who can sleep with that Mardi Gras going on?!, a beguilingly masked Leslie Ann Warren pantingly whispers Who was that mustached masked man?! The parade of stars continues with Rita Moreno, Adam West (TV’s Batman), Hector “Macho” Camacho, the Pointer Sisters and a purring Eartha Kitt, who steals the show with her inimitable rendition of Who was that masked man? Me-yeoww.

Overnight (literally) the campaign catapulted Rio into the front rank of Vegas’ hottest casinos. The 2500 suites were grabbed up, gaming take soared, and Masquerade Village is now on every visitor’s “must see” agenda, guaranteeing a near-captive clientele for their 22 retail shops and 14 restaurants. My coup de grace was a tough sell because of its overt sexiness, but every guest, whether sleeping with a roommate or alone, finds two masks lying on the bed pillows when they enter their spacious suites. When worn in the casino, Rio security doesn’t know if they’re planning to gamble, or hold up the joint!

Three gigantic outdoor billboards,

Seen one at a time, 200 feet apart,

while driving on the road to Rio!