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Chris Jones

Tourism Board Members Object to 'Sin City' Reference

16 December 2003

When it comes to promoting the state's tourism industry, the phrase "Sin City" is simply too taboo for Manny Cortez.

As president and chief executive officer of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, Cortez has spent much of 2003 championing his organization's controversial but successful "Vegas Stories" advertising campaign.

Known for its "What happens here, stays here" tag line, the spots have drawn both praise and criticism for their subtle -- and often not-so-subtle -- use of risqué themes and experiences commonly associated with visits to Las Vegas.

Despite that campaign's play on Las Vegas' freewheeling vibe, Cortez took exception when the term "Sin City" was used to describe Las Vegas as part of a new statewide tourism campaign previewed at Monday's Nevada Commission on Tourism board meeting at Caesars Palace.

"I've lived here for 50 years and have sold this city for 40, and I can say we've never used that kind of terminology in our ads," said Cortez, who is also a commissioner for the nine-member state tourism board. "You don't use that phrase."

Cortez's protest was supported by fellow board member Irwin Kishner, who added "a certain element of the population is not quite in favor of making Las Vegas a sin city."

Bruce Bommarito, the commission's executive director, said his staff will take steps to address the issue in future ads.

The flap began when Teri Gibson, an account executive with DRGM Advertising & Public Relations, showed the board samples of a current print campaign designed to lure more outdoor enthusiasts to the state. One print ad now in circulation called for a "Guy's Week Out" that included several days spent in the outdoors, or "God's country," followed by a "Sin City chaser."

Earlier in the meeting, DRGM Vice President Jennifer Evans and others said the spots were developed using extensive consumer research. After spotting the phrase "Sin City," Cortez asked members of the DRGM delegation if their research methods led them to use a term his organization staunchly avoids when promoting Las Vegas.

Once challenged, Gibson attempted to compare her company's "Nevada, Wide Open" ads to claims made in the convention authority's $58 million "Vegas Stories" campaign, a call Cortez rebutted by stating his group's spots only hint at risqué activities.

To date, the "Vegas Stories" spots have included scenes that hinted at a woman getting aroused while riding in a limousine, a "quickie wedding" between a female conventioneer and a much younger man, as well as the aftermath of an evening on the town that left one partygoer "missing in action."

The spots have drawn criticism from locals and many viewers outside the state, though industry response has been largely positive and will soon result in more "Vegas Stories" spots early next year. The campaign was produced by R&R Partners, a Las Vegas-based advertising agency.

DRGM, which has offices in both Las Vegas and Reno, in June wrestled the Nevada Commission on Tourism advertising account away from R&R. That two-year contract is valued at approximately $2.7 million per year, commission spokeswoman Chris Chrystal said Monday.

Cortez told commissioners in June he enjoys a close relationship with R&R but did not vote on which agency would receive the state contract. R&R maintained a less-lucrative role as public relations agency for the commission.