Las Vegas ‘What Happens Here, Stays Here’ Slogan Faces New Scrutiny in Light of Steve Wynn and #MeToo Movement

Posted on: February 12, 2018, 01:00h. 

Last updated on: February 12, 2018, 01:13h.

“What Happens Here, Stays Here.” The very well-known ad slogan that kicked off as the Las Vegas mating call in 2003 may now be going the way of the Dodo bird: towards extinction. Is there still time to pull it back and save it?

Steve Wynn scandal Las Vegas marketing
LVCVA Chairman Lawrence Weekly’s agency has the difficult task of determining whether to forego Las Vegas’ “What Happens Here” marketing campaign following the sexual harassment claims made against prominent Sin City magnate Steve Wynn. (Image: Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal)

The iconic catchphrase, which the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority’s R & R Partners advertising arm bought for a buck from the LVCVA 15 years ago, took its first hit back in October, following the horrific shooting of hundreds of innocent victims from the Mandalay Bay’s 32nd floor, which left 58 dead. Temporarily retired for a much more sanguine campaign, the WHHSH slogan was back by January, 2018.

Shining Light on Misdeeds

But now, in the wake of Steve Wynn’s scandalous withdrawal from the company he founded 16 years ago — which itself follows on the heels of so many other high-profile men in industry, entertainment, and politics who have taken a fall in the past year or so for alleged sexual misconduct — the campaign may once more be in jeopardy.

Hinting as it does at naughty misdeeds, including those of a sexual nature, it may be that the #MeToo backlash movement and its fallout could drive WHHSH straight down the drain. At the very least, Las Vegas branding experts want to make sure that WHHSH isn’t misconstrued as a message that in any way endorses behavior with a menacing edge.

R & R Partners’s principal Billy Vassiliadis told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that consumers’ responses to the phrase are constantly being monitored. “It is not a message of naughtiness. It is a message of personal freedom and personal choice,” Vassiliadis stated.

Mixed Messages

While Vassiliadis contends that WHHSH isn’t an endorsement of bad behavior, numerous LVCVA ads have seemed to highlight the ambiance that puts the “sin” in Sin City.

From a woman who leaves her husband at the check-in desk, only to have him arrange a “down-low” escapade with another man, to the wife who returns with just sketches of her Las Vegas vacation to prevent her husband from seeing what really happened, the campaign has always hinged on a “you can get away with behavior that wouldn’t fly at home” vibe.

Experts say that’s ok, within reason.

“It is okay to be sexy. What is not okay is to suggest even unintentionally that this is a place where you can behave badly and not have repercussions,” marketing pro Deb Gabor told the R-J last week.

Gabor concluded that in the wake of widespread sexual assault and harassment allegations against a wide swath of top-shelf moguls and politicians, which began with Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein’s fall from grace, any sort of message that might hint at the endorsement of bad behavior may no longer be appropriate.

Steve Wynn scandal Las Vegas marketing
A 2013 LVCVA ad in response to the National Security Agency teaming with tech companies to potentially spy on users seemed to suggest that what happens in Las Vegas is none of anyone else’s business. (Image: Twitter)

“If you asked me a year ago, I would say yes, the slogan is appropriate and relevant. But the dialogue that takes place today is totally, totally different,” she noted.

But Vassiliadis determined after the Mandalay Bay October 1 shooting that visitors did not want a change.

“My creatives would love to do something different, something new,” Vassiliadis revealed. “But every time we go out to test any new creative messaging, people ask, ‘What happened to ‘What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas?’ That’s what we love.'”

 “What Happens Here, Stays Here” has received widespread industry praise as well, since its introduction 15 years ago. In 2011, the slogan was inducted into the Madison Avenue Advertising Walk of Fame.