“What Happens Here, Stays Here.” Unless, of course, you document nearly every waking moment in Las Vegas—sober or drunk—on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, which is the practice of a rising number of social media-obsessed visitors.
In recognition of that trend—and the need to contemporize its marketing—the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority and its longtime agency, R&R Partners, are making the most significant change to the iconic campaign since it launched in 2003, including updating the tagline to “What Happens Here, Only Happens Here.”
The new campaign debuted during the Grammy Awards broadcast on CBS Sunday evening with an ad that includes music stars who regularly perform in Vegas, including Shania Twain and Christina Aguilera, as well as UFC heavyweight fighter Francis Ngannou. The spot ends with footage of Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler revealing the new tagline with a little help from the crowd during a performance that was filmed last year at the Park MGM.
The Vegas authority had planned to begin promoting the new campaign along the Vegas Sttrip early this week, but postponed those moves until later this week in deference to Kobe Bryant, who died in a helicopter crash on Sunday. The authority stated that the ad ran as scheduled during the broadcast because it was unable to be withdrawn because it had already been placed in rotation.
The goal of the campaign is to portray Sin City as having a vibe that is unmatched. “In a lot of places you can go see [Lady] Gaga, you can go see Aerosmith. But you are never going to get the experience you're going to get here. Because you are going to walk outside that thing and the energy level isn’t going to go down,” says Arnie DiGeorge, R&R executive creative director. “You are not looking for your car in the parking lot to drive home ... You are basically right back into the mix—and nobody does that like Vegas.”
But underlying the change is that the old tagline, as iconic as it is, does not make literal sense to today’s visitors, many of whom share every moment of their Vegas trip to the outside world via social media. In other words, what happens in Vegas no longer stays in Vegas. “Millennials and sharing—they go together, it’s become a selfie world, a selfie generation,” DiGeorge says. The new campaign plays into that notion by installing “Instagram traps” around the city in which tourists can take pictures of themselves in front of the new tagline spelled out on structures spread through town, such as custom-made archways.
The update comes as R&R prepares to defend the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority account, which it has held for some 40 years. The agency’s existing contract expires in June and the authority is conducting a competitive review, according to minutes from an authority board meeting held in November.
The authority is also searching for a new chief marketing officer. Its former CMO, Cathy Tull, resigned in April amid a criminal probe into misconduct. She and former authority CEO Rossi Ralenkotter were among four people charged in September with alleged theft and misuse of $90,000 in Southwest Airlines gift cards bought by the taxpayer-funded tourism agency, according to the Las Vegas Review Journal. R&R officials say the agency is not part of the probe.
The authority’s marketing is now overseen by Fletch Brunelle, who joined as VP-marketing in April after a 27-year stint at MGM. Asked about the agency review in an interview, he said, “It’s been a while and it is just time to take a look,” noting that it has been 10 years since the contract went out to bid.
R&R, which runs the account from its Vegas office, handles creative, PR and media buying for the authority. DiGeorge says the agency has successfully defended the account before and “we’ll defend it again.” He adds: “I don’t think that anyone else could do the massive stuff we do for this account.”
The agency is known for a research-intensive approach. It has continually surveyed people about the classic tagline and always opted to stick with “what happens here stays here”—until now. “The problem is the literal sound of it sounds like you can’t talk about what’s here,” DiGeorge says, while conceding that the old line is so engrained that fans of Vegas will still use it in all likelihood.
Previously, the campaign sought to protect Vegas from the “oversharing” culture with ads like “know the code,” a lighthearted effort from a few years ago that encouraged visitors to shun friends who were posting too much of their vacation to social media.
The new campaign, DiGeorge says, opens up new marketing possibilities for Vegas properties, such as creating “only Vegas drinks” or “only Vegas experiences.”
“‘What Happens Here Stays Here’ tried to keep a lot of the parts of the experience a mystery. We did that on purpose because it let people go into their imaginations,” he says. “Now this place boggles the imagination even when you talk about all the stuff.”