Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority
Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority
3150 Paradise Road
Las Vegas, Nevada 89109
Telephone: (702) 892-0711
Web site: www.lvcva.com
VEGAS STORIES CAMPAIGN
Between 2000 and 2002 the number of visitors to Las Vegas dipped from 35.8 million to 35 million. Analysts blamed the slump on the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and the sprawl of Native-American-owned casinos across America, along with a sudden increase in jurisdictions allowing gambling. The Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority (LVCVA), whose primary duty was to market Southern Nevada as a premier destination for leisure and business travel, drew its funding from Nevada's room tax. In hopes of branding Las Vegas as a leisure destination for people craving indulgence and an escape from their humdrum lives, LVCVA released its "Vegas Stories" campaign in January 2003. It differed from past LVCVA campaigns that advertised Las Vegas's exquisite hotels, golf courses, and entertainment.
The $58 million campaign was originally scheduled for 20 months and featured the tagline "What happens here, stays here." After achieving considerable success it continued into 2005. Conceived by the ad agency R&R Partners, the campaign appeared across print, Internet, outdoor, and television mediums. Suggesting that people did not always want to disclose what they did in Las Vegas, the spots were based on true stories. Several commercials merely featured people, usually in their twenties or thirties, who were suspiciously vague about what they actually did during recent Las Vegas vacations. When asked about their trip, the travelers grew quickly uncomfortable and fabricated hardly cohesive stories. Some spots featured people completely reluctant to talk about their Las Vegas trip.
Shrouded in controversy almost from its conception, "Vegas Stories" commercials were banned from airing during the 2003 Super Bowl. Las Vegas businesses also voiced their difficulty in hiring out-of-state employees after the campaign's tagline boasted of Las Vegas's immoral side. Despite the discord, the campaign prompted Brandweek magazine to bestow R&R Partners with its Grand Marketer of the Year award. The campaign also helped reverse Las Vegas's visitor decline. In 2004 the city hosted 37.4 million visitors, which was 2.4 million more than in 2002.
The LVCVA advertising account had been handled by Las Vegas-based R&R Partners since 1981. Not only had R&R Partners helped Las Vegas become one of America's fastest-growing cities by the late 1990s, but it had also helped brand Las Vegas as a popular destination for art, musicals, and world-class cuisine. Erika Brandvik, PR manager at LVCVA, told PR Week US, "The fact is 15 years ago there were only two states where you could gamble, and now you can engage in some form of gambling in 48 of the 50 states. So just being a gaming destination isn't going to do it for people anymore."
In March 1999 R&R Partners released a campaign titled "Las Vegas—It's anything and everything," which appeared during the same year that luxury hotels such as the Venetian, Mandalay Bay, Bellagio, and Paris opened along the Las Vegas strip. Soon afterward an R&R Partners survey revealed that most visitors were attracted to Las Vegas's unrestricted atmosphere. To hype the city's liberated environment the agency released a campaign called "Freedom Party." It involved the construction of the website www.vegasfreedom.com and ads announcing a fictitious presidential candidate who, incidentally, belonged to an equally fictitious "Freedom Party."
To stoke Las Vegas's convention business, the "We Work as Hard as We Play" campaign appeared just before the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. R&R Partners valued the campaign but wanted to also target leisure travelers by branding Las Vegas as a "commitment-free, pressure-free, judgment-free" destination. After fumbling with such taglines as "Las Vegas: You know how it goes," "Vegas: Keep it between us," and "Las Vegas: Get in on the secret," Jason Hoff and Jeff Candido, copywriters at R&R Partners, chose "What happens here, stays here," the previous motto of men misbehaving in remote locations.
During the campaign's first year, "Vegas Stories" targeted 21- to 35-year-olds with a penchant for adult entertainment. The first television spots, aired in January 2003, suggested that Las Vegas was a place where businesswomen led double lives, coeds engaged in one-night stands, and groups of friends got so drunk at night that members of the party would be missing the next morning. As the campaign continued and its popularity increased, its target market was expanded. By 2005 the campaign's commercials became more ambiguous to broaden their appeal. Candido told the Washington Post, "They're successful because people can imagine more than what we show. A grandmother who sees these spots can imagine that [the debauchery] is spending too much time at the buffet. The 23-year-old bachelor party guys can have their own ideas about what went on." To widen their target R&R Partners also created spots that featured elderly couples, African-American and Latino women, middle-aged couples, and a sexually ambiguous character.
LVCVA and R&R Partners later began targeting different archetypes that they created for the campaign. One such archetype, titled "The Admiral's Club," was profiled as a heavy traveler and recreational gambler, usually 35 years of age or older, with a household income of more than $50,000 and who read magazines such as Golf Digest, Sports Illustrated, and Playboy. "The Cultured Pearl" was described as a high-power businesswoman whose household income exceeded $100,000. "Fashionistas" were flashy, domestic travelers who enjoyed recreational gambling, were sometimes college-educated, and watched TV shows like Will & Grance, American Idol, and The Bachelorette at night. The "Jack & Diane" archetype was described as a married-with-children suburbanite who took short vacations and enjoyed heavy recreational gambling. Lastly, "Mr. Saturday Night," was depicted as a unmarried man who earned more than $50,000 annually, preferred high-energy activities, was a modest gambler, and watched television shows like Fear Factor, Survivor, The Apprentice, and The Contender.
As with Las Vegas, room tax also provided a marketing budget for the gambling-friendly city of Reno, located 450 miles north of Las Vegas. In 2003 Reno-Sparks Convention & Visitors Authority (RSCVA) released a campaign titled "America's Adventure Place," referring to Reno, which was still reeling from the popularity of Native-American casinos and from public unease over possible terrorist attacks. Las Vegas was generating seven times Reno's gambling revenue; many of Reno's casinos were in desperate need of renovation. "We found Reno didn't have a great perception in our (tourist) market," Deanna Ashby, the RSCVA executive marketing director, told the Reno Gazette-Journal. She described Reno's previous image as "a place where you can get your teeth knocked out in a barroom brawl."
In 2004 the $1.5 million Truckee River Whitewater Park was built in the heart of downtown Reno. With 8.000 tons of concrete the city converted a 2,600-foot stretch of the Truckee River into class II and class III rapids for kayakers. Print and television spots for "America's Adventure Place" aired in California's Bay Area and Sacramento markets. Commercials portrayed Reno as a popular destination for nightlife, hiking, mountain biking, and white-water kayaking. Print ads with the tagline "360 Degrees of Adventure" showed panoramic collages of similar activities. Despite most of Reno's visitors being age 55 or older, the campaign focused on a younger demographic of outdoor enthusiasts. By 2004 Reno had finally stopped the diminution of its tourist industry, but the city still had not regained the 5.1 million visitor count it saw in 2000.
"Vegas Stories" was a major departure from previous LVCVA campaigns, in that it did not flaunt the famous Las Vegas strip, show the insides of casinos, or display forms of adult entertainment. Instead it strove to brand Las Vegas as a retreat for adults searching for guilt-free fun. For instance, in the 30-second spot "Parents," two parents confronted their teenage son, who had hosted a house party while they were away at Las Vegas. When asked what he had done all weekend, the son replied, "Nothing." When he asked his parents the same question, they sheepishly replied, "Nothing." In contrast to past LVCVA campaigns, the "Parents" spot was not even set in Las Vegas. "We're developing a brand rather than a product," Rob Dondero, an executive vice president of R&R Partners, told Adweek.
The campaign's first spots, which began airing in January 2003, were slightly more risqué and were eventually banned from appearing during the 2003 Super Bowl. Several Las Vegas businesses also claimed that the spots marred the city's reputation as a respectable place to work. Directed by Bryan Buckley, the commercials showed, for instance, a businesswoman impulsively marrying a handsome, non-English-speaking man and then hurriedly insisting, "I have to get back to my convention." In another spot a young woman justified her one-night stand to her girlfriends by insisting, "He's a juggler and he had very nice hands." In a commercial featuring a group of middle-aged men recovering from a night of overindulgence, one man asked, "We've got one guy missing in action. All we have are his dentures. What are we gonna say?" All spots ended with the tagline "What happens here, stays here."
After its 2003 backlash, the campaign released six new TV commercials on February 11, 2004, that were less explicit. In the spot "Unclaimed Luggage," a couple approached the front desk of a hotel in search of their luggage. When asked a few simple questions, for instance, about what room they stayed in or when they checked in, the couple confessed to never actually entering their room. Instead they had spent a sleepless night enjoying Las Vegas. "What we've tried to show is the precursor, and the aftermath, to a personal story, and let viewers fill in the details," Candid told the Washington Post. Another spot, titled "Silent Car," featured a limousine transporting what seemed to be an exhausted bachelorette party. At first the women appeared sullen, until one bridesmaid snickered, which sparked contagious laughter throughout the car. LVCVA spent an initial $58 million to run print ads and television spots. The latter aired across such networks as Comedy Central, E!, ESPN, ESPN2, Fine Living, Food Network, Fox News, and MSNBC until August 2004.
The Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority (LVCVA) formed a committee in 2005 to investigate its president and CEO, Rossi Ralenkotter. Without consulting his board members Ralenkotter had sold rights to LVCVA's popular slogan, "What happens here, stays here," back to the advertising agency that created it, R&R Partners, for the price of $1. After further investigation Ralenkotter's name was cleared. Analysts, however, criticized him for selling the slogan, which could have generated millions of dollars in licensing agreements. Before the sale R&R Partners convinced Ralenkotter that they were more prepared to protect the slogan from copycats and opportunists.
The campaigned continued into 2005 with five more television spots, all of them less provocative than their original counterparts. One 2005 commercial featured a boxer whose manager was relieved that he could not remember the night before. Another spot, portraying the ambiguity that Las Vegas offered its visitors, featured a woman who assumed the names of television characters. R&R Partners' chief executive, Billy Vassiliadis, told the Washington Post, "People always ask if the spots are about sex. If that's what you want to read into it, that's fine."
In 2004 "Vegas Stories" overtook campaigns released by McDonald's Corp. and Apple Computer to win Brandweek magazine's Grand Marketer of the Year award. As the campaign continued and Las Vegas restored its dwindling tourist industry, even some of the campaign's toughest critics, such as Nevada's Governor Kenny Guinn, warmed up to its controversial tagline. After traveling domestically, the governor, who was addressing the 20th annual Governor's Conference on Tourism, was quoted by Associated Press Newswires as saying, "I can tell you that slogan is synonymous with Las Vegas, and they don't take it as a negative. Some of us did. I believe I did to begin with. But I've changed my mind because you need something that is attached to Las Vegas and the state of Nevada."
Not only had the visitor decline to Las Vegas stopped by 2004, but the city also boasted 2.4 million more visitors that year than in 2002. Furthermore, a USA Today Ad Track survey deemed "Vegas Stories" spots the most effective commercials on television and the sixth most likable.
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