Las Vegas tourism goes from naughty to nerdy with docs about oddball conventioneers

Visitors authority drops "What happens Here" tagline to appeal to "unconventional" tourists

The brand that gave us the ubiquitous slogan, "What happens here, stays here," a dozen years ago is taking a sharp detour from its glitzy, party-happy campaigns into some offbeat corners of pop culture. Think roller derby queens and cutthroat card games about wizards.

For a new video campaign dubbed "Unconventional," the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority and long-time agency R&R Partners created two branded 8- to 9-minute documentaries that take us behind the scenes of some decidedly un-glitzy real-life conventions.

One introduces us to the women of RollerCon, one of the largest annual skating events in the world. Players with names like Anvil Smashnasty leave behind their day-to-day life to take on their derby personas, hone their skating skills and relish derby rituals. In regular life, Smashnasty goes by April Abernathy and works for an electrician in Indiana.

The other video follows a Magic: the Gathering tournament that attracts about 4,000 card-players and several thousand fans. For the uninitiated, Magic is a complex trading-card game that pits warring wizards against each other and has about 20 million followers worldwide. We meet players like David Williams, a professional poker player with a weakness for the Magic community, and a pair of players who fell in love and were married at a Magic event.

Each video weaves mentions of Las Vegas into the dramatic story line. Neither includes the "What Happens Here" tagline.

"The Vegas brand is nonjudgmental," said Caroline Coyle, vp of brand strategy for LVCVA. "Focusing on unique people and unusual hobbies reinforces that brand DNA" and "gives a personal sense of value to those involved." The approach gives the brand "the potential to really touch people," she added.

"Las Vegas couldn’t tell stories like this in TV ads," said Arnie DiGeorge, R&R’s executive creative director. "Viewers get to know real-life people who come here and transform into someone else — like the roller derby skaters. Girls like them don’t fit into a 30-second spot. We hope other young women visiting Vegas can see their story and say, ‘Hey, they are a lot like me.’"

To promote the series, the visitors authority will run excerpts from the videos via paid placement on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube starting Sept. 28. The paid posts will be targeted to gamers, extreme sports enthusiasts, Las Vegas visitors and people interested in travel. About five million people attend conventions in Vegas each year, said Coyle.   

Looking forward, the visitors group plans to do a similar branded video about small-time inventors and DIYers who come to the huge annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January.

Were there other, quirkier Vegas conventioneers that didn’t make the cut? "Yes," DiGeorge said, laughing. "Two groups we also really liked were the Sweet Adelines female barbershop quartets and the Gay Rodeo Association. But we found out that someone had already done a video on the Gay Rodeo."

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