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The Las Vegas Convention Center plays host to all kinds of weird and wacky association groups that you never hear about, such as organizations devoted to roller derby moms and fantasy card game enthusiasts.
This month, the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority decided to spotlight a few of them in its new “Unconventional” video series to show how the convention center is a place where people feel comfortable to express their individuality.
The first two documentary-style videos are surprisingly long for convention bureau content marketing, running 8-10 minutes, with more videos scheduled to roll out through the fall.
According to Cathy Tull, senior VP of marketing at the LVCVA, the videos are designed to target members of associations, versus meeting planners who organize association events. That strategy hinges on communicating how the convention center caters to the special interests of unique groups in a fun, professional and creative manner. Ideally, that will inspire association members to then advocate for their events to be held in Las Vegas.
The first video focuses on a day in the life of the annual Magic Grand Prix Las Vegas event, where more than 4,000 contestants compete in a card trading game called “Magic: The Gathering.” Worldwide, the game has a following of more than 12 million players.
The other video provides a fly-on-the-wall perspective of the annual RollerCon 2015 female roller derby playoffs, where mild-mannered housewives transform into butt-kicking divas.
That’s why the Unconventional videos are longer in length, in order to delve further into the culture of the group and psyche of some of the individuals. By focusing on the event participants, their obvious passion for the event, and how they express themselves freely in Las Vegas, rather than the event itself, Tull believes that resonates more deeply with the average conference attendee.
Most of all, the videos had to evoke the same level of enthusiasm, spontaneity and adult freedom as the bureau’s well known leisure-side marketing, so people would watch the videos in their entirety.
“We don’t usually use the ‘What Happens Here Stays Here’ messaging on the business side,” says Tull. “We use ‘Meetings Mean Business’ and more traditional messaging like that, but the Unconventional campaign kind of bridges the gap between those two. We wanted to have fun with the idea of meetings and tradeshows, while also recognizing that you can have all kinds of only-in-Vegas experiences while you’re here.”
Aside from the subject matter, the other most noticeable element of these videos is their overall style. They’re shot with an indie filmmaker’s sense of timing and framing without any elaborate production equipment or staged scenes. The end result is devoid of the varnished marketing gloss and contrived parade of pretty people typical of many other destination campaigns.
Tull says that most people still think of the meetings and conventions sector as a bunch of people in suits and ties sitting in boring rooms looking at PowerPoints. Even though the events depicted in these videos are not what you would describe as “meetings,” strictly speaking, they do show people having a great time while creating powerful personal bonds through shared experiences aligned with a common goal. That, of course, is also the mission for any traditional meeting or conference.
With this campaign, the LVCVA is basically getting out of the way of the colorful characters in the videos, so there’s a more direct connection between them and the audience.
“What we wanted to do with the Unconventional series is have people tell the story in their own voice,” explains Tull. “We really wanted it to be authentic, so that’s why it’s not really a slick, produced piece of work. It’s really more raw and allows people to describe in depth what they’re passionate about.”
The Story Behind the Meetings
The LVCVA’s long relationship with its creative agency R&R Partners has led to a level of trust that supported the somewhat risky development of Unconventional. It began when Arnie DiGeorge, executive creative director at R&R, was sitting in the Mandalay Bay Hotel in Las Vegas while a huge group of body builders were streaming by him.
DiGeorge says he was curious about their individual stories and thought other people would be too.
“That spoke to me about how people come to Las Vegas to test out a different self and explore their alter ego,” he explains. “I wanted to know what these peoples’ lives were like back home or back in the office.”
An example of that expressed in the Unconventional series, the roller derby ladies all have special names when they travel together, and it’s interesting to see how they beam when they share those names versus their real names. April Abernathy, for instance, is an employee at an electrical company who goes by Anvil Smashernasty on the derby tour. She met her BFF Kimmie S’More, who works in insurance, through RollerCon.
And yes, all of this is designed to drive meetings and events business to a convention center. The LVCVA is promoting the videos primarily with paid social media placements on Facebook and Twitter, and short sample videos in movie theaters around the country directing viewers to the bureau’s YouTube channel.
DiGeorge says the biggest challenge was convincing the event organizers that the LVCVA wasn’t intent on making fun of the groups. Once R&R explained that the goal was to provide insight into the attendee experience, then the organizers were all in.
“They loved it,” Tull says. “Normally with shows like the roller derby, they come in, do their thing, and then they leave. They don’t get a whole lot of attention. They don’t usually have people following them around with cameras to produce a cool little video.”