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Sin City’s new slogan is set to launch Sunday evening

Sunday marks a new era for Las Vegas.

The city’s “What happens here, stays here” is set to be replaced by “What happens here, only happens here,” according to sources familiar with the matter. The new slogan will debut during the Grammy Awards, which air Sunday evening.

R&R Partners, the marketing company that developed the city’s iconic slogan in 2003 with the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, declined to confirm the new language. But CEO Billy Vassiliadis said the new line is meant to get an emerging generation excited about Las Vegas without straying too far from the city’s longtime catchphrase.

“Even though the ‘stays here’ part didn’t feel contextual to this (younger) generation, they still had an affinity to the slogan,” Vassiliadis said. “We couldn’t walk away from (the old phrase). But we had to contextualize it. We had to bring it into the 2020s.”

The success of ‘What happens here’

The city’s 2003 tagline is seen as widely successful.

Sheryl Elliott, an associate professor of marketing and tourism studies at George Washington University, said it’s rare for a city’s slogan to gain as much traction as “What happens here, stays here” did, and rarer still for it to last as long as it did.

A screen shot from the 2003 "What happens here, stays here campaign." (R&R Partners)
A screen shot from the 2003 "What happens here, stays here campaign." (R&R Partners)

Sonya Grier, chair of American University’s marketing department, said its longevity shows how impactful and effective the phrase was.

“I think it had both a specific and broad meaning, so people could make it what they wanted it to be,” she said. “That’s why it was so successful, and they built on that.”

Jonathon Day, an associate professor at the Purdue University School of Hospitality and Tourism Management, said the tagline is one of the strongest destination taglines.

“Las Vegas is one of the few destinations in the world that really does have great value in their tag,” he said.

According to R&R’s website, the campaign boosted year-round occupancy to 87 percent, 22 points over the national average, and helped attract about 14.1 million visitors in 2016.

Review-Journal readers mostly had a negative reaction to “What happens here, only happens here,” with 73.3 percent saying they give the new slogan a thumbs-down in a poll that tallied 2,085 votes on social media as of midday Friday.

Elliott worries the city is trying to fix something that isn’t broken.

“There are not that many state or destination slogans that have stood the test of time (outside of) Las Vegas, Virginia and New York,” she said. “Other destinations would give anything to be in their situation and have something that. … It’s a lot to give up.”

A look back

R&R has been the communications agency for the LVCVA for more than 35 years. The city had tried its luck with a handful of other slogans, with some memorable ad campaigns in between.

Before “What happens here, stays here,” the city tried a handful of slogans that didn’t stick, from “Always on the money” to “Freedom from Dullsville.”

When the phrase was launched, Elliott said the city was looking to shed its “not successful campaign” at becoming a family-friendly destination, after developing Disney-esque casinos like Excalibur and Treasure Island. This new line reversed tactics, Elliott said, and attracted visitors looking to bend the rules in a controlled environment.

“They needed an overhaul of their image,” she said.

1980

The city launched the “No one does it better” campaign.

1984

Las Vegas highlighted its affordable hotels with the “Resorts bargain of the world” line.

1987

“The American way to play” was used by the city through 1990.

1991

The city used “Always on the money” for roughly two years.

1994

The “A world of excitement. In one amazing place” campaign lasted about a year.

1996

“Open 24 hours” highlighted the city’s nightlife options.

1998

Las Vegas adopted “It’s anything and everything” for about a year.

2000

Las Vegas used “What you want. When you want” through August 2001.

September 2001

The city campaigned on “Freedom to get away from it all” for less than a year, ending use of the slogan in May 2002.

June 2002

“Freedom from Dullsville” was the last slogan before “What happens here, stays here” launched, and was used through December 2002.

A screen shot from the 2003 Mistress of Disguise commercial as part of the "What happens here, ...
A screen shot from the 2003 Mistress of Disguise commercial as part of the "What happens here, stays here campaign." (R&R Partners)

2003

R&R and the LVCVA launched “What happens here, stays here” with their “Mistress of Disguise” commercial. The ad showed a woman, dressed like she came straight from a club, in the back seat of a limo flirting with the driver, only to later leave dressed as a business professional. This slogan was used for more than a decade, with other short-lived campaign slogans used intermittently.

The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority pursued five marketing campaigns from 2008 thro ...
The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority pursued five marketing campaigns from 2008 through 2010. (LVCVA)

2009

R&R launched the “What’s your excuse” campaign in 2009. That same year, the LVCVA kicked off its “Stay-and-play” campaign. The city urged Southern Nevadans to take a “staycation” in the midst of the Great Recession, and highlighted discounted attractions and hotel stays.

2010

The “Camp Vegas” commercials played on the notion that summer camp isn’t just for kids.

2011

The “How to Vegas” Facebook campaign was used from March through June of 2011 and won R&R an award for an outstanding social media campaign from the Internet Advertising Competition.

2012

R&R launched the “Take back your summer” campaign.

2014

The seasonal “Vegas season” campaign was used in the summer of 2014 and 2015.

2018

The “Only Vegas moments” national TV ads featured contemporary themes with diverse characters, and addressed same-sex marriage proposals, relationships on the rocks, workplace attitude reinvention and pampering oneself.

This is a screen shot from one of two new video commercials to promote summer travel to Las Veg ...
This is a screen shot from one of two new video commercials to promote summer travel to Las Vegas released by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority on Tuesday, May 30, 2019. The commercials were part of the LVCVA's Vegas Changes Everything campaign. (YouTube)

2019

The LVCVA rolled out its “Vegas Changes Everything” campaign. Two videos highlighted the city’s culinary lineup and residencies. That same year and into early 2020, R&R began building anticipation for Las Vegas’ new slogan. In Times Square on New Year’s Eve, signage behind the ball drop urged viewers to visit Sin City.

Letting go of ‘stays here’

It may be hard for some to let go of a phrase as iconic as “What happens here, stays here,” according to David Schwartz, a professor and gaming historian at UNLV.

“It’s so wired into the city,” he said. “I don’t think people are going to stop saying it.”

Grier said the new slogan shifts the emphasis “in a very nuanced way” from the person to the place. Whether it will be successful depends on how the rollout is executed, she said.

But as Day put it, “A brand is much more than a tagline,” and Las Vegas’ brand isn’t necessarily changing.

“Las Vegas is quite different from anywhere else and it’s got sort of this tongue-in-cheek sort of grown-up fun thing about it,” he said.

Contact Bailey Schulz at bschulz@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0233. Follow @bailey_schulz on Twitter.

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