Amid tourism bust, Las Vegas revives 'What Happens Here'

There's nothing like a crisis to send people running back to the tried-and-true. That truism holds for cities: Las Vegas, in the midst of a tourism slump, is returning to its iconic tagline "What happens here, stays here." According to The Las Vegas Sun, the city is abandoning a gamble that didn't pay off: slogans that acknowledged the nation's rough economy ("Crazy times call for crazy fun"), which failed to entice tourists to return.

Needless to say, the stakes are high. The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority reports that the number of tourists has slipped 6 percent this year through July, while convention attendance has plunged 26 percent. The result? Gaming revenue in the Strip has dwindled by 13 percent to $5.17 billion. That's caused publicly traded gaming companies to take a beating. MGM Mirage (MGM)swung to a loss in the second quarter, while sales declined 17 percent. Shares of MGM Mirage are down more than 50 percent and Wynn Resorts (WYNN) more than 20 percent from their 52-week highs.

The question is whether returning to the famous tagline will make a difference. Many would-be tourists probably never realized Las Vegas had stopped using the slogan. It entered into the popular consciousness as few tourism slogans have. Indeed, Hollywood even co-opted the phrase, hoping to parlay its popularity into ticket sales for the 2008 Cameron Diaz vehicle What Happens in Vegas. (And it worked: the film grossed $80 million domestically on top of a production budget of $35 million.)

The slogan "certainly had staying power," says Mary Zalla, managing director of the Cincinnati and Chicago offices of branding company Landor & Associates. Zalla, who has worked on campaigns for such cities as Cincinnati and tourist spots such as the Biltmore Estate, says, "If it's a campaign or a line that can define what a city's promise is, it can be very compelling."

The "What happens here" campaign, created by R&R Partners, worked by selling Las Vegas as an experience unrivaled by the casinos sprouting up in other parts of the country. The original campaign included three TV spots that proved memorable and appealing to an important demographic: women. One showed a woman who had gotten into a limo in a sexy dress leaving in business attire, including hair tied back in a bun. The spots became so popular that the slogan was rated as one of the top all-time slogans by Digg Users last year, alongside such classics as "Pardon me, do you have any Grey Poupon?" and "got milk?"

Given the sticking power of the slogan, it may be a bet worth taking for Las Vegas.
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