Sticker shock allure

Sticker shock allure

The timeline was the 1970s and 80s. The location? Downtown Las Vegas. The target? Tourists and locals swarming North Las Vegas casinos. The challenge? Attracting guests to the casinos with creative, tempting ploys. The big whale of the marketing hooks (and who could ever forget), was the enduring photo opp next to a million-dollar exhibit of cold, hard, cash displayed inside the Binion Gambling Hall. But after numerous photo opp scams wore out their welcome, gimmicks incorporating a culinary twist arose. Who can forget the 99-cent-all-you-can-eat buffets, the “free” shrimp cocktails or the $1.99 steak and lobster combo? All worked liked a magic wand luring the slot-playing guests in thru the front doors.

Today, the same culinary hook is back, and this time around, the magic wand is the appeal of sticker shock! Regardless of our economic woes, the strategy of showcasing an outrageously overpriced drink or menu item is often partnered with the claim of being “the world’s most expensive.” At a time when many complain about the price of coffee going up a few cents, guests are being lured by a US$1,000 bagel (Westin New York), US$3,700 pizza, (The Pizza Royale 007 created by Chef Domenico Crolla), US$5,000 hamburger (Mandalay Bay, Las Vegas) and washing it down with US$71,000 cocktails, (Movida Nightclub, London). And it doesn’t stop there. For dessert, how does a US$25,000 ice cream sundae sound (Serendipity-3, New York City) with a blend of 28 cocoas topped in gold and sprinkled with a US$2,600-per-pound truffle? The best part? Guests can walk away with the gold-and-diamond encrusted spoon!

It’s not the goji berry-riesling jelly and gold leaf that make the NY Westin’s bagel famous — it’s the steep price tag trend, which — back to my point — may sound ridiculous in a time of economic crisis, but it garnishes press, and press attracts patrons.  

Take the US$71,000 “you haven’t tasted opulence til’ you’ve sipped this flawless cocktail” campaign, courtesy of the London nightclub Movida.  

With it’s own extravagant built-in extra (an 11-carat white diamond ring found at the bottom of the glass), customers buying the exorbitant cocktail won’t go unnoticed, as two security guards are on duty as the drink is prepared and consumed until the last sip. Whether these campaigns truly make you hungry or kill your appetite, it’s the sticker shock allure that has spread the popular practice.

Naturally, it would be impossible to justify dining on anything as costly. However, the popularity of this PR technique can truly be classified as one of the most popular marketing trends, not just in Vegas — where it’s an expectation — but worldwide. The lure of pulling off one of these ideas has proven to be worth the bragging rights, and to add a feel-good element, some are attaching a tagline to their own “World’s Most Expensive” campaign, stating all profits will go to “charity.” (Makes you feel better, doesn’t it?!)