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What Happened Here?

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Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority

Christina Aguilera in the new Las Vegas tourism ad

The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority debuted our city’s new tourism slogan Sunday night with a 60-second spot during the 2020 Grammy Awards. Featuring celebrities such as Shania Twain, Christina Aguilera, and UFC fighter Francis Ngannou, the commercial closes with Aerosmith revealing the new Vegas mantra: “What happens here, only happens here.” We discussed the new slogan over email.
 
Andrew Kiraly: Uh, I’m not ready to talk about the slogan yet. I kept hanging up on the lines I suspect were lifted from the inspirational-poetry-on-distressed-barnwood aisle at HomeGoods: “What happens here is a symphony written for the bold and the daredevils … It has a melody only the fearless can hear. … To lift the mask of sameness, and the find the music within you.” It sounds like Rumi in an alternate universe where he’s a NASCAR driver. Who’s ready to dance like no one’s watching?!

Okay, I don’t mean to oversnark, and I get that these commercials must have broad appeal but, tonally, this feels like a mincing step back from the mischievous spirit of “What happens here, stays here.”

What are your thoughts on the slogan itself?
 
Heidi Kyser: The first thing that struck me was the thinness of the images making up the montage. People jumping around in nightclubs, making out in hallways, hanging from silks, strutting down concert catwalks. Am I just a jaded 15-year resident, or do I speak for everyone when I ask, “Is that the best you could come up with?”

If what happens here does, actually, only happen here, then shouldn’t that point be illustrated by something a little more original? I guess you could argue that the artists-in-residence (Shania Twain, Aerosmith) don’t play anywhere else, and people don’t ride horses down neon-lit main streets anywhere other than maybe Rio, but it just seems to me like Las Vegas has a much deeper well of Bacchanalian/outdoorsy/arty/help-me-out-here-Scott imagery than was plumbed here.
 
Scott Dickensheets: I second that, Heidi. I’m also curious about the shift in tone, from the winking naughtiness of “What happens here, stays here” to the new ad’s heavy reliance on basic entertainment spectacle. That’s probably a safe move in a time when outdated assumptions about sexual relations are being renegotiated, but the blaring subtext of the previous campaign was that this isn’t a city best represented by the safe move.

Indeed, I wish there had been a few more bold daredevils in the pitch room when the LVCVA concepted this. “What happens here, only happens here” is the sort of thing devised by people overly cautious about moving too many geese away from the one that’s been laying golden eggs since 2003. An understandable anxiety, I suppose, given the high stakes. Nonetheless, I, for one, was primed for something wildly new, and — acknowledging that I’m obviously not the target audience — this isn’t it.
 
Andrew: I see what you’re saying, Scott. Maybe bucking norms is too fraught, too much of a mine field, when those norms are shifting. It makes you wonder whether conventional notions of “bold” and “edgy” are as handily viable in a post-Oct. 1, post-#MeToo, post-culture-wars world. It’s been a while since I’ve seen one of the older “What happens here, stays here” spots, but I suspect I’d cringe at some of them now, seen from the other side of an altered cultural landscape.

So, let’s put a positive spin on this: What would you two want in a Vegas slogan or a Vegas commercial?
 
Scott: I imagine a commercial opening on the poetry shelves at the Writer’s Block, cutting to a raucous meeting of the Las Vegas Knitters, and then — okay, there’s a reason I don’t make the tall dollars of an LVCVA marketing genius. But why not work in a glimpse of, I dunno, one of the zazziest of the Downtown murals, and a scene of two of Chinatown dining? Less to showcase “the real Las Vegas” than to simply thicken the average Iowan’s idea of what this city is. To suggest there’s something a visitor can do on her third night here besides another round of Strip bombast.
 
Heidi: Did I mention the outdoors? The recently minted Nevada office of outdoor recreation claims that its industry contributes $12.6 billion in consumer spending and $4 billion in tax revenue to state coffers. I know the LVCVA knows this, so maybe the gazillions of visiting boaters, hikers, rock climbers, and skiers that I see out there every weekend simply aren’t their audience. Or maybe they got the message that our popular public lands are overrun enough? Anyway, it seems like a gaping omission to say nothing of, at the very least, Red Rock.
 
Andrew: Heidi, when you put it that way, I can totally see a focused, specialized commercial that showcases all the wonderful outdoor recreation around Las Vegas while also celebrating Vegas itself while also subverting all the standard Vegas tropes and stereotypes. Maybe that’s the ultimate bold, edgy, quintessentially Vegas norm-buck: BUCKING OUR OWN NORMS!!!

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