LAS VEGAS – Sin City travelers have a new tourism slogan to inspire their adventures.
“What happens here, only happens here.”
An updated version of “What happens here, stays here” – a mantra that spent almost two decades embedded in the American vernacular – launched Sunday with a 60-second commercial aired after Aerosmith’s performance at the 2020 Grammy Awards.
The television spot featured a who’s who of Las Vegas celebrities, including Shania Twain, Christina Aguilera and UFC heavyweight fighter Francis Ngannou.
Sunday’s launch encountered a tragic and unexpected hurdle – a Southern California helicopter crash that killed basketball icon Kobe Bryan and his daughter Gianna. Tourism authorities had planned to roll out launch activities on the Las Vegas Strip Sunday, fitting resort marquees with #OnlyVegas.
Watch the full commercial here:
Those activities will be postponed until a later date.
“In light of today’s tragic accident that claimed the lives of Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna, and others on board, we are postponing any activity planned on the Las Vegas Strip until a future date,” said Steve Hill, CEO of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. “The hearts of everyone in Las Vegas are with the families and friends of those lost, with all of Los Angeles and with his fans around the world.”
No permission needed
The campaign maintains the heart of the “What happens here” slogan: “Here, you don’t need permission from anyone,” said trumpet player Brian Newman. “Except yourself.”
R&R Partners, the advertising agency that built the slogan for the LVCVA, deployed more than 200 people over several years to assemble the campaign. Crews filmed the commercial over seven days on the Strip.
In December, for the first time in Las Vegas history, McCarran International Airport recorded 50 million passengers on the year. Tourism authorities aim to surpass that number with the help of the new slogan – one that pitches Las Vegas as a center of unique experiences.
“It’s a very free-form destination,” said Arnie DiGeorge, R&R’s executive vice president. “When we do research, most of the people that come here will plan one big dinner and one show, and they’ll leave the rest open, because they want to be immersed in the world here, and they want to enjoy where it’s going to take them.”
The USA TODAY Network sat down with R&R CEO Billy Vassiliadis to get the inside story of the new “What happens here, only happens here” campaign – and what that philosophy actually means.
“One of the early compliments we got about ‘What happens here, stays here’ was that it is a very truthful and powerful statement,” Vassiliadis said. “We think this one is too.”
On what the ‘What happens here’ philosophy means …
We were the release valve. We were lithium. We brought visitors back down. We let them get away from clocks and schedules and gotta-dos and honey-dos and all the other stuff that real life calls for. I used to say the carpenter from Des Moines would wear a suit here and the banker from New York would wear shorts and a t-shirt the entire week they were here. They transformed themselves to not be what they were in their daily lives. Whatever release they felt they needed and wanted. That hasn’t changed.
On what has changed …
How we communicate has changed. The number of channels we have to communicate on has changed. The amount of information we receive has changed. Our ability to receive information – only the information we want – has changed. We now customize the information we receive. That has created this enormous challenge – not just for us, but for every product and brand. There’s also this undertone of anti-establishment that’s back to the ’60s in some way. You’re not a brand loyalist for life anymore. These younger kids sure aren’t, and I’m not talking about just millennials – I’m talking even up into the middle of Generation X. There’s a cynicism by the consumer about brands. With this idea of us exclusively offering a certain experience to this sharing generation, what becomes vital to any brand and destination is having peers influence peers. Your friends will believe you more than they’ll believe me telling them this is the best place to be. That has really driven where we’ve gone digitally, socially, etc.
On the pressure of getting it right …
We feel a huge obligation to this community, because the tourism industry drives school funding. It drives hundreds of thousands of jobs. If we screw something up, and there’s a drop in visitation, there’s a couple thousand families that don’t have an income and health insurance. We view tourism as a pillar of the economic well-being of this community. This is how we eat, how we educate our kids, how we build schools, how we build roads, how we support water infrastructure, all those things. We put a lot more pressure on ourselves with this campaign, because we know the faces of the people who are going to be impacted if we don’t succeed.
On how to measure the success of ‘What happens her, only happens here’ …
Are the travelers up? Are the room rates going up? Are the shows selling out? Raw numbers. Are we filling airplane seats? Are we filling hotel rooms?
On the evolution of marketing Las Vegas …
By 1980, Vegas was the only destination to legalize game, and then Atlantic City came along. By the mid ’90s, every American was living within 200 miles of legalized gaming, and it was growing exponentially. Our folks here – our property investors – went in and built all sorts of cool new stuff – spas and shopping and signature restaurants – so the product at least matched the major products that were out there: San Francisco for dining, New York shopping, etc. But is that a differentiator? If I can eat this in San Francisco and in Las Vegas, and I live near San Francisco, I’ll just go there. So we took ‘What happens here, stays here’ to that step: No, San Francisco doesn’t give you this. No one gives you this. Las Vegas is the most unique experience. This is the ultimate adult freedom, and that’s still the core of what drives us – the idea that this is the only true adult freedom in the world.
(Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity)