It is, therefore, essentially a commodity. You can give money away to the state in its lottery. You can drive to the nearest Indian casino. You can go to the horse or dog track and surrender it the parimutuel way. In a number of states, you can play the slots there, too, thus giving money away to machines, who don't even have to pretend to be sympathetic, sucker.
So why would Californians, for instance, fly or drive for hours to Las Vegas when there are ample opportunities to piss away their assets right at home? This is the question posed in a clever new campaign by the California Marketing Committee, the organization that promotes horse racing in the Golden State.
Glitter, excess and mystique
Actually, that's not quite right. The CMC and its agency, RPA, Santa Monica, know the answer: Vegas' glitter, excess and mystique. Santa Anita doesn't have a pyramid, Elton John or big-ticket whores. The Trifecta may be a bad bet, but it doesn't exactly exude danger.
The genius of the Las Vegas ad campaign of the past three years, in fact, has been to trade on danger, to convert the city's sin and sleaze into brand benefits. They're not marketing gambling; they're marketing adventure -- especially sexual adventure. "What happens here stays here" does not refer to the David Copperfield show.
Thus, the actual question posed by the CMC campaign: What if what happens there doesn't stay there? What if it crosses the San Bernardino Mountains and comes back to haunt your adventurous ass?
In one of three spots, a young guy is lying in bed, in peaceful slumber. The sheet is pulled back enough to reveal something colorful on his back. This is noticed by his wife or girlfriend, who peels back the sheet to reveal a tattoo -- a heart with an arrow through it.
"Honey," she says, "who's Misty?"
The guy winces, totally busted. She slaps him and bolts out of the room.
"Unfortunately," intones the voice-over, "some things don't stay in Vegas. For more fun and less trouble, come to the track." Meanwhile, mortised into the end frame: shots of our hero having a blast at the horse races. The tagline: "You're this close to winning."
Turning the tables
Clever double entendre. Of course, if you really analyze it, "this close" to winning means falling just short -- which is probably more truth in advertising than anybody intended. But never mind, because the real message is: When you go to Vegas, you're at any given time "this close" to ruining your life. That would be a pretty harsh comparison, this close to litigation in U.S. District Court, if it weren't leveraging Vegas's own campaign.
That, ladies and gentlemen, is more than just comparative advertising. It is jujitsu.
The only problem with the "Misty" spot is how it's edited. In an attempt to focus on the guy's pain and regret, the drawn-out action sucks the life -- and a lot of the humor -- from the spot. The guy gets slapped, but the joke gets strangled. The other spots are much crisper and funnier.
One is about opening the door and finding your one-night stand on your front step. The other, the most frighteningly realistic, is the guy in his cubicle getting an intraoffice instant message. It reads: "Can't stop thinking about you since the convention. xoxo ... JJ."
He turns to his left, where a depth-of-field change reveals JJ, winking at him. Needless to say, as charitably as this can be put, she's a total loser.
And, of course, so is he. So is he.