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Can Vegas Do Earnest? A New Tourism Ad Gives It a Try

The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority unveiled a new Las Vegas commercial this week. Titled “Imagine Vegas, Just For You,” the spot remixes material from previous commercials for a decidedly different kind of tourism message. “The world has changed, and Vegas is changing with it,” the narrator says, over images of wide Strip vistas and couples sharing intimate moments. Created by R&R Partners, the ad is running on a range of major network, cable, and streaming channels. 

Andrew Kiraly, Heidi Kyser, and Scott Dickensheets discussed the new spot over Slack. 

Andrew: My first impression: It's a starkly different tone, for sure, than previous Vegas spots. A kind of clear-eyed earnestness versus the bacchanalian exceptionalism we usually promote. It admits that even Vegas is inside this crisis, not outside or beside it. What do you guys think?

Heidi: I found myself intensely observing the distances between people. Like, the couple is really close, and they seem to be practically alone in that restaurant, but … AHA!!! ... They are clearly not six feet away from the other people walking in the public scene I assume was on the Strip.

Andrew: I was attuned to that too — it’s like our new sixth sense — and was mentally calculating distances.

Heidi: I think it speaks volumes about the mania this crisis has induced. Like, I was more interested in that than the actual message. But within that, it is saying, hey, this is still a nice place to come with your SO. With whom you’re locked down anyway ...

Scott: It has more social awareness than previous campaigns. Definitely more images connoting a soothing, low-key authenticity — reading in a chaise lounge, strolling around Red Rock — in place of frenetic nightlifery. The craziest it gets is the guy at the end getting into the pool in his street clothes.  

Heidi: ... again, practically alone (except with the woman he’s there with).

Andrew: I think I’ve heard the narrator's voice in a pharma ad for irritable bowel syndrome medicine. Which is to say, it definitely contributes to the mode of earnest reassurance they're going for. It's a compliment! 

Scott: It fails to list the side effects, however.

Andrew: Also, I don’t think there are any interior shots?

Scott: The one interior I saw was from, I think, inside a High Roller pod.

Heidi: I hate to get political — and why, again, is a public health crisis political??? — but no one’s wearing masks. That had to be a conscious choice.  

Andrew: Are there any other details in the ad — as we discussed, for example, the focus on couples and singles, or the prevalence of exterior shots — that you notice that may be trying to speak to The Moment?

Scott: First scene: the sun rising over the valley. A new day is dawning, even if we don't know what it is!

Heidi: Restraint. In dress, activity, music. They’re holding back, especially compared to earlier ads. I mean THEY SWIM WITH THEIR CLOTHES ON, for goodness’ sake!

Scott: Likewise, I think the final scene, where the camera rises up alongside the woman gazing with affectionate awe at Paris Las Vegas, is clearly attempting to focus our attention beyond The Moment, which, of course, means it’s all about The Moment. She’s gazing happily upward, out of the frame — it seems to me that we’re meant to read that as her hopeful gaze into the coming COVID-free future, a subtext so achingly obvious it can’t help but remind me of this current COVID-ridden moment.

Andrew: I’m finding it hard to put myself in the mindset of a would-be visitor watching this. Any thoughts on that? I do notice that this ad has very little story to it, and no celebrities, and I wonder if that's intentional — to make it serve as a kind of gentle reminder, a bookmark for an exhausted and careworn populace. Like, "Sorry to bother you, but ... Vegas exists. Please visit ... sometime?"

Heidi: I hate to resort to this, but I think people will see what they want. If you were thinking of coming, and really want to, you might feel comforted by seeing people happily frolicking at a more-or-less safe social distance. If you’re wary of coming, you might see people with really good insurance under the age of 50 throwing caution to the wind. I also felt there was something kind of sad about it, that “forgotten friend tugging on your heart strings” thing. But I also think what’s happening to the city is genuinely sad in a not-funny-at-all way.

Andrew: What are your thoughts on this ad in contrast to previous Vegas ads —  “What happens here, stays here” and “What happens here, only happens here” — with their promise of secret naughty crazy and bling-studded bombast? 

Scott: As noted, this ad seems lower-key than its predecessors, which, among other things, reminds me of how hard it must be to market an experience economy when no one’s sure what it will be safe to experience. There’s just such a small sweet spot there, in terms of the national prosperity needed to support a place like Vegas. I don't think LV’s imagineers are quite ready to overhaul the tried-and-true brandscape just yet, in case the good times come roaring back, but they clearly realize they don’t have a lot to work with right now. I mean, how do you say “come be frivolous” to a country suffering such massive and sudden unemployment? 

Andrew: To your point about them not having a lot to work with, Scott, there’s a certain necessary genericness to the ad. I was surprised at the clip of the couple hiking at Red Rock. Traditionally, it seems, official Vegas ads have been microscopically, if not exclusively, Strip-centric.

Scott: I suppose they could have marketed to a less upscale, more bargain-hunting consumer, but I don’t think that’s who the marketers think we are anymore.

Heidi: ... and yet, they have to do something, right? (It’s their job, and for the good of the economy.) It's a tough needle to thread, indeed. Before this came out, I actually wondered if there would be a return to emphasis on the “cheap Vegas” of olden days, given what's going on with unemployment and the GDP.

Andrew: I wonder whether the market out there for “cheap Vegas” overlaps too untenably with the unemployed and others feeling the economic fallout. In that sense, this ad —  with its both implicit and explicit promises of intimacy and exclusivity —  would seem geared toward the higher end of the economic food chain.

Scott: Sure, people who still have money and theoretically need the least coaxing to come back. Though advertising that MGM is doing away with parking fees might've been an option!

Andrew: I find myself going back to Scott’s observation about R&R not seeming to have a lot to work with, because everything is in this state of vibrational uncertainty. On repeated viewings, the spot is increasingly apparent in its vagueness, its reluctance to convey some sense of concrete commitment to What Vegas Is Now.  

Heidi: Yeah, it's the interim ad. The let's-get-something-out-there-while-we-all-hold-our-breath ad.

Scott: It's a sense-of-placeholder.

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