'Mr. V' ads boosting 'Net travel business for
March 7, 2003
By Richard N. Velotta

World-renowned chef Wolfgang Puck was caught in the act on film, stuffing his face with corn dogs.

Mr. V had just snapped a Polaroid of him eating and threatened to expose the chef indulging in a guilty culinary pleasure unless he could deliver restaurant reservations at quality establishments for Mr. V's pals.

Mr. V is the fictional star and Puck is among the characters in a series of gag-filled television advertisements written for a $6.5 million marketing campaign for the Internet travel and information site.

Since the campaign debuted in January, business has more than quadrupled for, and company President Howard Lefkowitz said the conversion of site visitors to paying customers has quintupled to more than 2 percent.

The company does not disclose its revenue. Lefkowitz said the Internet site now attracts about 1 million visitors per month and is growing., which has 81 employees, is a niche player in the online travel industry, exclusively selling travel, lodging and entertainment services for the Las Vegas market.

PhoCusWright, a company that monitors Internet commerce, projected that online travel bookings would hit $28.4 billion last year, a 37 percent increase over 2001. The company said 15 percent of all travel would be booked online in 2002, growing to nearly 30 percent by 2005 for an estimated $65.5 billion in revenue. Final figures have not been compiled to determine whether the 2002 projections were met.

Lefkowitz showed a sampling of the Mr. V ad series, developed by kirshenbaum bond + partners west of San Francisco, at an industry conference in Henderson Thursday.

"The message is that Mr. V gets it done for you, period," Lefkowitz said in an interview.

The theme of the campaign is that registered users and customers have an inside connection with and are able to obtain hard-to-get hotel rooms, event tickets and restaurant reservations.

The "Vegas connection" theme is one that has used over the past 14 months, starting regionally in Southern California in late 2001.

Lefkowitz, who joined the company in October 2001, launched a new logo for the site in December of that year and announced initiatives targeting Las Vegas's important Southern California market.

Under one promotion,'s registered users and customers could purchase VIP tickets to Staples Center entertainment and sports events including National Basketball Association Lakers and Clippers contests and National Hockey League Kings games. then launched " VIP," a program offering access to concerts and sporting events to customers and registered users.

"VIPs will have access to the best seats in the house -- even in their hometown arenas," Lefkowitz said at the roll-out. "We monitor VIPs use of the site and are prepared to spoil them rotten for their patronage. The more interaction a customer has with, the greater the benefits."

With this program, hinted how it would later position itself in its national advertising campaign.

Lefkowitz then attracted attention to with play-for-fun casinos set up outside Clear Channel Entertainment's Verizon Wireless Amphitheater and Glen Helen Blockbuster Pavilion, both in Southern California. Pit bosses and dealers offered play-for-fun blackjack, craps and roulette before shows and during intermissions.

A deal with Clear Channel gave customers the opportunity to buy entertainment packages.

"We are 'Vegasizing' these venues, with the thrill of casino play for fun," Lefkowitz said at the time. "Gaming enthusiasts have a chance to sample Vegas by playing some of their casino favorites, while newcomers can learn without the pressure of money on the table, and the arena atmosphere will be charged with exhilaration -- just like Vegas."

Lefkowitz said the play-for-fun campaign has been discontinued temporarily but he expects it will be resurrected at some point.

Lefkowitz's next deal was again aimed at what he called's most loyal customers, Californians, who were offered " VIP access" to seats at major events in Southern California as part of a deal announced by and House of Blues Concerts Inc.

That program launched at the Universal Amphitheatre in Los Angeles on April 27 and the Coors Amphitheatre in the San Diego area on April 28 -- and again included the play-for-fun casino tables. then launched a contest in conjunction with the Tom Leykis syndicated radio show to "hire" strip club reviewers followed by a "Lapapalooza tour" of Las Vegas strip clubs. That was a promotion highlighting edgy local content on the site, including topless-club reviews.

In August, announced an expanded deal with America West Airlines and America West Vacations that allows consumers to book Las Vegas travel reservations on the site. America West has a hub in Las Vegas and is the city's second-busiest airline. The airline has more than 30 hotel partners in Las Vegas.

Then came the hiring of kirshenbaum bond and the Mr. V campaign.

The newest twist on the Mr. V theme is what Lefkowitz calls "random acts of Vegas." Under the campaign, takes action to reward employees in the hospitality industry by sending them a token of appreciation -- a bottle of champagne, a bunch of flowers, a box of chocolates -- with a note of gratitude "from the desk of Mr. V."

Earlier this week, announced a publicity-generating partnership with America Dog and Cat Hotel in Las Vegas, enabling the booking of pet suites over the Internet.

Lefkowitz hinted that more announcements are planned in the next six weeks that would further position on a national scale. is a sister company to the Las Vegas Sun and its biggest local competitor,, was developed by the owners of the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

The Review-Journal now leases the Internet domain name to a company operated by Mandalay Resort Group and Park Place Entertainment. recently hired as its president Erick Rodriguez, a Las Vegas native who helped build the Internet travel company Travelscape and was an executive with Sabre, an airline industry reservation company.

Lefkowitz said intends to remain independent in the market.


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