How Las Vegas Is Helping the City Heal With Two Perfect Lines of Copy

R&R's Arnie DiGeorge on the agency's emotional new ads

LAS VEGAS—The ads are all over town, from digital billboards at the airport to the famous marquee displays outside the major hotels and casinos.

Two lines of white copy on a black background:

We’ve been there for you during the good times.
Thank you for being there for us now.

Below that are the Las Vegas tourism logo and the hashtag #VegasStrong.

The message is everywhere, appearing on way more ad spaces than you would expect. Some displays have other ads rotating in, but many are unblinking—broadcasting just those words of thanks to the tourists here, and to those around the world who’ve offered support since Sunday’s horrific mass shooting on the south end of the Strip.

Every city in mourning repurposes its outdoor ad space this way. Think of the “United We Stand” ads in New York after 9/11, or #BostonStrong after the marathon bombing. Out-of-home plays a unique role at such moments, giving public voice to the pain—and also to the resilience that always goes hand in hand. It’s something the community craves without even necessarily knowing it.

Las Vegas knew after Sunday that it would need such messaging, and quickly, to help the city begin to heal. The task fell to R&R Partners, longtime agency of record for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority—best known for their long-running tourism ad campaign “What happens here stays here.”

The LVCVA would have no trouble getting the message out—the government agency partners with all the big properties in town to coordinate advertising. R&R’s job was to figure out what the ads should say.

By 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, the campaign rolled out. It included the stark black-and-white ads with the two lines of copy, as well as a more ruminative video, narrated by Andre Agassi (born and bred in Vegas, and still a resident), about the city’s strength as well as the acts of heroism by its citizens.

On Wednesday, Adweek spoke with R&R executive creative director Arnie DiGeorge about the challenge of responding, the parallels to 9/11, the process of writing the copy, and how, in some sense, the new ads aren’t all that different from “What happens here stays here.”

Adweek: How quickly did your thoughts turn to, “Hey, we’re going to need some kind of communication to unite people here”?
Arnie DiGeorge: We’ve been through something like this before, when 9/11 happened, and when we had the really sad times because of the housing problems here and the downturn in the economy. So, we know when we need messaging. We knew it right away this time. It was just one of those things where we form a control room and we go at it. It’s been an emotional roller-coaster ride for everybody here. Usually we’re not as close to it as we are this time.

Obviously you guys know a thing or two about coming up with a great line. How did you arrive at these lines, and did you feel pressure to get them just right?
I hate to say this, but it was pretty easy. Most of the stuff we’ve been doing is based on what we’re hearing and what we’re experiencing. We’re trying to be as truthful and emotional as we can. One of the things we realized was the outpouring of support from everywhere. All we could think of was: These are all the people who visit us. These are the people that we’ve shown a good time to. They’ve seen us at our absolute best. And look what they gave us back. It was a really, really easy line to write. It was where a few of the writers were immediately headed.

So, not too many rewrites.
I won’t say we didn’t have rewrites. It was said a couple of different ways, and we tried to simplify it as much as we could. But it wasn’t as hard as it sometimes is.

"These are the people who've ... seen us at our absolute best. And look what they gave us back."
-Arnie DiGeorge, R&R Partners

It must have been quite a challenge for a place known for fun to have to confront the opposite. The brand voice of Vegas is not one that deals with sadness and difficulty very often.
Well, even if you think about “What happens here stays here,” there’s a ton of truth in it. That’s what works so well. Right now, we’re looking for the truth of this situation. And one of the things we’re seeing, that we rarely get to see in the world of Vegas, is all these heroic efforts. One of them that’s mentioned in the Agassi script is the mother who started putting injured people in her car and drove them to the hospital. Six or seven people in her car. Valet parkers who were acting as triage for people. The stories you heard, I was blown away by them. We felt it was the right thing to talk about. Whether or not we’re known for that, during this time we’ll be known for something a little different.

The two main lines in the campaign are about empathy. But there’s also this idea of strength, in the Agassi video and the #VegasStrong hashtag. Was that something you wanted to focus on from the beginning?
The hashtag was already being used. We didn’t come up with the hashtag. A lot of agencies would immediately go, “We need to come up with our own hashtag.” It’s already out there. People are already doing it. They know what happened, and they know how we’re going to get through it. So, why not go with that?

You drained the color from the image of the skyline. Can you talk about that?
That’s just saying it’s a bit of a different message. We are having a hard time. It isn’t business as usual. We’re not going to lie about that. There are people in town who are still having a great time, but for the town itself, and the way we feel at the moment, our feelings are not that it’s business as usual. We’d be silly to say that. We’re giving it a bit of a different look, and hopefully there’ll be a time when we’ll see a much brighter skyline again.

What’s the response to the new ads been like?
We’re getting a really, really good response. It’s been really nice. It’s been so wonderful the way that the world has responded to us.

Do you feel like the incident on Sunday affects the viability of “What happens here stays here”? Will you be able to use that line in future?
We do everything with research. We’re already getting out there and trying to figure out what the sentiment is—not for the line right now, but just how everybody’s feeling. That line is sort of our soul. People want it so much, in research. No matter what we do, they call for it. It kind of is us now. I can’t say this yet without looking at how people are feeling, but I’d be surprised if it didn’t show up again.