Magazine article ADWEEK

Exporting Fabulous Las Vegas Nevada: How to Customize Your U.S. Branding Effort to Work around the World

Magazine article ADWEEK

Exporting Fabulous Las Vegas Nevada: How to Customize Your U.S. Branding Effort to Work around the World

Article excerpt

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U.S. brands face myriad hurdles when entering new global markets, not least of which is customizing their marketing to be in sync with local mores. This challenge gets even greater when the marketer's campaign is a sexy one.

The city of Las Vegas, whose overarching "What happens here, stays here" campaign has a message of risque adult abandon, is facing this challenge head-on as it extends the effort into Mexico, Great Britain and Canada (which all have direct flights to Las Vegas' McCarran Airport).

"We have to carefully adjust the volume of edginess up or down" depending on the region, says Rob O'Keefe, account director at R&R Partners, the agency for the Las Vegas tourism group.

Las Vegas joins a host of other American brands that, over the years, have customized existing U.S. marketing strategies to snag global consumers. Starbucks, which uses its laptop-friendly retail locations as a form of brand positioning, is marketing itself in traditionally tea-drinking China as an urban youth brand with retail stores that give customers a hip, Westernized experience. Also in China, Coke, in preparation for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, has exported its love of celebrities by unveiling in August a billboard filled with images of renowned Chinese athletes. And Levi's has extended its penchant for young, attractive people in tight jeans to Web sites worldwide, but in culturally-specific contexts (e.g., an arty and minimal online design in fashionable Italy and a focus on storefronts--with techno music setting the mood--on the Mexican site, where markets are a communal experience.)

Las Vegas' ads in other countries have previously been confined to product-oriented print and TV spots promoting the city's wide range of resorts, entertainment options and other amenities and services. Those product ads will continue in a secondary role to the image campaign.

"Based on the success of our 'What happens here' marketing in the U.S., we shifted our global strategy from a purely product-education philosophy to a focus on emotional brand building," says Rossi Ralenkotter, president and CEO of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. Global travel is expanding even as foreign travel to the U.S. is decreasing, he adds, "so we must have our brand out there to attract international travelers who are going elsewhere."

Recent U.S. spots from the campaign, which launched in 2003, include "Be Anyone," in which an average-looking man is shown in bars and parties coming on to women by pretending to be a variety of different professionals. In "Fortune Teller," a woman drags her reluctant boyfriend to a psychic. When it's the man's turn, the fortune teller looks shocked as he implores her with his eyes to keep quiet. Both ads end with the "What happens here" tagline, "Only Vegas" logo and visit.lasvegas.com.

To help them understand how to customize the message for foreign audiences, the Las Vegas Authority reached out to travel agents, media buyers and public relations firms in other countries and is holding focus groups with travelers. Based on feedback gathered, it learned that its creative wasn't provocative enough for the U.K., that it needed to be toned down for Mexico and could be pretty much left alone in Western Canada. (Eastern Canada was another story.)

The resulting adaptations, says Rob Dondero, evp at R&R Partners, are like the wrapping paper and ribbons on a present that remains the same (the present being a unique adult playground). Regardless, he adds, the real power of the Vegas strategy is that half the communication takes place in the consumer's mind: "No matter what country we are in, we always leave it up to the consumer to fill in the blanks."

For Mexico, Vegas tourism officials worried that the tagline and creative would not translate well or resonate in a society far more conservative and Catholic than the U. …

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