After the shooting on Oct. 1, 2017, Las Vegas' tourism economy faced a dilemma: how to advertise the well-known glitz and glitter in the light of unspeakable tragedy.
Not long after, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority -- one of the groups responsible for advertising the area to the world -- started using a slogan that caught on quickly.
Vegas Strong was on billboards, on shop windows, on cars.
Billy Vassiliadis is the CEO of R&R Partners, the advertising company tasked with marketing the city to the world. He said Vegas Strong was not something cooked up in a brainstorming meeting at the company. Instead, it was organic, and was started by visitors and locals alike within hours of the shooting.
"We didn’t actually come up with it," he said. "We were thinking about what to do. There had been Boston Strong […] our visitors got so active to defend and support the destination that #VegasStrong was what was trending on social media by our fans, by our family, by our extended family."
Vassiliadis said the slogan spoke to the idea the community had come together in a way that people outside of the valley didn't know it could.
"All of the sudden, the world saw that there is a fiber to this community," he said. "There is an essence to this community. There is a depth of humanity here -- like Boston reacted to their horrific tragedy, like New Yorkers reacted to their horrific tragedies -- that Vegas is made up of people that care, that have compassion and empathy & charity."
The idea of Vegas Strong wasn't just spread through social media but through a simple but powerful ad campaign. It featured the city's skyline and the voice of tennis legend and Las Vegan Andre Agassi.
Vassiliadis said his firm's creative director -- himself a lifelong Las Vegan -- wrote the ad. He wrote it from his heart because that was what he was thinking about.
But the LVCVA also had to be respectful of the people who had lost loved ones, those who had been hurt and show thanks to the people who had done what they could to help "just the citizens of this community that rallied so strongly," Vassiliadis said. "The city which has been criticized for not being particularly neighborly became amazingly neighborly."
The ad made history because it actually aired during an NFL game. The league has historically not allowed ads for Las Vegas to run during its games. Vassiliadis worked with Mark Davis, the owner of the Raiders, to get the league to allow the ad to play.
"That was the first time a Vegas spot ran during an NFL game," he said.
But at some point, Vassiliadis said R&R Partners started to get feedback from customers that they didn't want the city they had come to identify as a place to let loose and have a good time to be defined by one horrific event.
He said they started to hear from customers they wanted their "Vegas back."
"In other words, do not allow this one lunatic, this insane killer to define what has been a place that we have loved to come to for 50 years," he said.
While the LVCVA started to adjust its message about the city back towards a more traditional message, it was mindful of the tone of the marketing -- especially in Southern California where so many victims and survivors were from.
Now, he says October 1 has moved the city from Vegas Strong to Vegas Stronger.
He said the anniversary should be a time to remember those who died, along with those who survived and the first responders who put their lives on the line. But he also said it's something for the community to remember how it came together.
"But for us Las Vegans, commemorate what a remarkable community that day showed the world that we truly are," he said.
Billy Vassiliadis, CEO, R&R Partners
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