Skift Take

Las Vegas struck pop culture gold with its "What Happens Here, Stays Here" campaign. It will wisely stick with the tagline and revive it in as many forms as possible until consumers' tastes change.

Las Vegas’ “What Happens Here, Stays Here” slogan is one of the most famous tag lines in modern tourism marketing, and one of the most quoted, talked about, and recognized ad campaigns in any industry.

The phrase has not only been a spark that’s helped drive millions of visitors to Sin City, it’s inspired an Usher song and the trilogy of Hangover movies, been quoted by Laura Bush, closed an Oscar ceremony, and been banned from Super Bowl time slots.

The tagline recently turned ten years old, representing a decade of reinventions that kept the concept fresh throughout the recession and introduce of widespread mobile device usage. Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority‘s chief marketing officer Cathy Tull is tasked with overseeing the tagline’s ever-present evolution and aligning it with the city’s messaging.

Tull, who has led Las Vegas’ successful marketing efforts for the past five years, will speak October 9 about travel’s most iconic tagline, “What Happens Here, Stays Here,” at the Skift Global Forum on The Future of Travel. Skift caught up with Tull to learn more about how to keep a winning marketing concept fresh and how to reach today’s travelers.

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Skift: What is your history in tourism marketing?

Cathy Tull: I’ve been at LVCVA for 10 years, but I actually started my career in health care. I started here in a strategic planning role, which really looked at everything that would effect tourism from a destination perspective. I looked at our ability to bring people into the destination and at our ability to move people around. I looked all of the elements of the destination that would hinder a visitor’s desire to come back if they had an experience they didn’t want or expect. I moved into my current role in 2009.

Skift: How have you seen the marketing of Las Vegas change over that time?

Tull: The visitors’ expectations of the brand product has really honed in and they’re sharing that socially.

Also, people will take the advice of a stranger or friend over something that would be viewed as a slick opinion. They don’t respond to full-sized slick advertising. At the end of the day, they want something that’s authentic and real, something that they can relate to. The things people say on social media matter. Marketing has also become very visual, which benefits Las Vegas because we have a lot of things to show off.

I also think what helps us as brand is that “What Happens Here, Stays Here” continues to work really well. It’s something that we continue to test regularly to make sure it’s resonating with visitors.

Skift: Las Vegas is as well known for its conventions as for its parties. How do you create a tagline, and brand, that speaks to both of those occasions?

Tull: We have separate campaigns that run in the meetings industry under Vegas Meets Business where we talk about the possibilities on the business side. We have very specific business messaging that goes both to people that are making recommendations on where a business should go, the meetings planner segment, and to the CEOs and the C-suite folks that are making the final decision.

The business campaigns compliment the concept of the freedom to choose. It works with the leisure campaign in that people having a meeting or trade show want to structure it in a way tat works best for their attendee. All shows are not created equal; not all meetings are created equal. They all need different things and the ability of a destination to respond to whatever those needs are is really important. The idea that I can come to Vegas and do whatever I want to have fun and that I can come here and create the meeting I want both really resonate. That’s why we use it in both campaigns.

Skift: How do you keep tagline,”What Happens Here, Stays Here,” fresh?

Tull: We spent a lot of time looking at all of the old spots last year before celebrating its tenth anniversary and there’s obviously a theme that runs through all of them. We never reveal what the “What Happens Here, Stays Here” moment, because that’s unique for each visitor and that’s what the visitor can decide.

For some people, the “What Happens Here, Stays Here” moment might be going to a five-start restaurant and eating in a way that they would never eat at home, going to a Joel Robuchon 7-course meal might be that moment. For someone else, it might be going to a club and staying up all night.

What is consistent throughout “What Happens Here, Stays Here” is the sense of intrigue, the sense that you never know what that moment is. What is different is really making it relevant to whatever’s happening at the time.

We’re getting ready to film new spots and it’s going back to the roots of “What Happens Here, Stays Here.” We’re really embracing that idea of intrigue and pushing that forward.

Skift: Where do you think most destinations fail when it comes to creating a tagline that resonates with visitors and has legs?

Tull: I think what makes us successful, and what makes any destination have the ability to be successful, is research. Everything we do is based off research. We are what we are, but our ability to embrace what we are and what we have to offer is what helps make us successful. Listening to what the visitors want, why they come here, and why they still come back is really important for structuring that message and coming up with a tagline. If it doesn’t resonate with the consumer, it’s a waste of money. I think that it’s important for people to make sure that they’re doing research and following what it says.

We’ve come up with concepts for spots that we think are hilarious, but then we test them and they just don’t resonate. The consumer just doesn’t get it. Either because it’s not true to the brand or it’s something that we don’t want the brand to do or say or be positioned as. If you don’t listen to those cues, you’ll spend a lot of money and create campaigns that don’t resonate.

Skift: What other elements of the destination help you with branding?

Tull: It helps that our resort stakeholders continue to change and create new products. There’s $12 billion worth of investment happening in the destination right now. There’s everything from new hotels like SLS opening at the end of the week to new products like the Link at Caesars. It helps that there is always something that we can push out that’s fun and interesting and new. The destination never is sitting still and that’s contributed to our success; we always have something cool to talk about.

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Tags: dmos, las vegas, skift global forum, tourism

Photo credit: Las Vegas Convention and Visitor Authority's chief marketing officer Cathy Tull talks at ATME 2009 Travel Marketing Conference. ATME / Flickr

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