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Perhaps The Worst Branding Campaign Ever:

"Family Vegas."

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As a firm that specializes in transformational branding of places, we often use Las Vegas as an example of a city that knows itself and has committed to a singular message.

But it’s not always been that way.
So, in advance of the Super Game, here’s a look back at one of the worst attempts at branding, ever.

Why in the world did anyone think branding Vegas as a family destination was a good idea?

Just like any business, revenues were down so the city needed a new idea. In the 1980s, Las Vegas found itself competing with a host of new gambling destinations, from riverboats to Atlantic City. To stem the losses, it decided on a massive makeover:
“In less than 10 years, virtually every hotel on the Strip was demolished or rebuilt, at an estimated total cost of $12 billion. The new hotels were huge—20 of the world’s 23 largest hotels in the world were now in Las Vegas — and provided spectacular entertainment like the artificial volcano at the Mirage, which spewed out flames every 15 minutes after dark” (ABC News).[1]
Many who loved the city's "Rat Pack" vibe were sad to see so many classic, original hotels and casinos demolished. But this wasn’t just a bunch of bored executives who simply wanted something new, these were serious real estate developers with a lot on the line. The new destinations were squarely aimed at families – Excalibur! The Yellow Brick Road! Buccaneers! Fake pyramids, fake Paris, fake New York! Do you remember the fake steam coming out of the manhole covers in New York-New York? This wasn't simply a new tagline, it was a massive attempt at repositioning "Sin City."

This "new" Vegas was making headlines across America, including the cover of Time magazine in 1994. As a result, families visited. They baked in the hot sun as they walked from one casino-trying-to-not-be-a-casino to another casino-trying-to-not-be-a-casino.

But guess what? It was still a destination of casinos-that-REALLY-ARE-casinos.

The families arrived, but the adults didn’t have fun, and the kids knew it wasn’t Disney World. After a few years, the strategy didn't work. Gambling revenues were down and the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Bureau spent millions trying to figure out what happened.  "Who are we?" "What do people want from us?" "What promise can we really deliver?" It wasn't rocket science.

So, in 2003, Vegas decided to stop lying to itself and to the public and rebranded itself with, perhaps one of the best place-based branding campaigns ever. Say it with us:  ‘What Happens here …” Fast forward to today and there’s no question that it was the right move.

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While it may seem obvious to us in hindsight, it wasn’t at the time.

Three takeaways:

  1. Effective branding requires brutal honesty – who are you, really? What do people want from you? Do you have the budget, talent and bandwidth to deliver on it excellently 100% of the time?

  2. Don't pretend to be something different than who you are. 

  3. Only go to Vegas with people you can trust.

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