Water officials seek grass-kicking new conservation message

"Get your head out of your grass"?

Yep, that‘s one slogan under consideration by the Southern Nevada Water Authority as it tries to refresh its conservation message, with the help of the world-renowned Las Vegas marketing agency that came up with "What Happens Here, Stays Here."

The new campaign by R&R Partners promises to be just as edgy as the last one it produced for the authority, which featured an angry old lady kicking a wasteful water user right in his, um, drip irrigation system.

This time around, jokey television spots are in the works with the punchline: "Nothing is sexier than conserving water."

Meanwhile, the "head out of your grass" portion of the campaign includes a guerrilla-marketing component —€” mannequins buried head-first in lawns around the valley.

Water authority board members were briefed on the new ads Thursday. Clark County Commissioner Steve Sisolak could only laugh and say, "You people sure are creative."

The authority‘s earlier marketing efforts have included separate, Spanish-language components, but this time R&R has partnered with Latino-centric HCI Advertising of Las Vegas on a coordinated effort to broaden the conservation campaign.

To be effective, the campaign has to reflect Southern Nevada‘s changing demographics "so everyone who can make a difference knows they can, and will," said Randy Snow, chief strategic officer and principal for R&R.

The ads could begin hitting local airwaves, computer screens, print publications and billboards in early September, just in time for fall watering restrictions that limit landscape irrigation to three assigned days per week.

The fresh marketing blitz is part of a larger effort by water officials to rejuvenate a conservation program that has so far produced "astounding" results but appears to be losing some of its momentum, according to authority general manager John Entsminger.

Also Thursday, the authority board granted Entsminger permission to boost the rebate for residents and businesses that rip out their turf and replace it with desert landscaping. Instead of $1.50 per square-foot, the authority plans to start paying out $2 per square foot, though exactly when the change will be made and how long it might last has yet to be determined.

Since the turf-rebate program was launched in 1999, 173 million square-feet of grass has been removed in exchange for almost $200 million in rebates. Entsminger called it "the most successful program of its kind in the world," but lately participation has dropped to the point that the authority is only paying out about 80 percent of the rebates it budgets each year.

"I think we‘ve gotten the low-hanging fruit, and we‘re going to have to try harder in that program," Entsminger said.

Water authority conservation manager Doug Bennett said the valley is still home to as much as 200 million square-feet of grass that‘s more ornamental than functional.

"We feel like it‘s time we should be pushing ahead as much as possible," he said.

When the authority bumped the turf rebate to $2 per square-foot in 2007, applications increased by 117 percent.

R&R‘s previous conservation campaign came out at about the same time, launched in late 2006 with the crotch-kick heard ‘round the valley. The ads went on to win an international marketing award called an Effie for their effectiveness.

"The big number is 87 percent of people did what we wanted them to," Snow said.

Several board members said the new ads were a little crass for their taste, but they seemed content to leave the marketing to the experts. In fact, the board voted to grant R&R a one-year, $3.35 million professional services contact that‘s renewable for up to six years.

Board member and Clark County Commissioner Susan Brager said she thinks the ads are "crude," and she expects to get complaint calls about them ’€” just as she did about that crotch-kicking old lady. But she stopped short of asking R&R to start over.

"All I want is your phone number," Brager told the advertising team, "so I can have them call you."

Contact Henry Brean at hbrean@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0350. Find him on Twitter: @RefriedBrean.

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