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Chris Jones

Tourism: New 'Stories,' Same Old Dispute

11 February 2004

LAS VEGAS -- Local tourism officials are confident their latest round of television advertisements will effectively cross cultural lines thanks largely to a message told in black, white and varying shades of gray.

Following up on last year's attention-grabbing but controversial debut of four "Vegas Stories" spots, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority and its contracted ad agency, R&R Partners, on Tuesday debuted four new stories that should boost the city's efforts to attract a more diverse tourist base.

A year ago, two of the four "Vegas Stories" spots featured only younger, white actors; a third included one black man joined by several whites, while the final spot focused on an Asian woman.

This year, however, local tourism leaders have expanded the ads' on-camera demographics to include one 30-second spot that exclusively features black women and a second that shows an elderly couple. In addition, the campaign's as-yet-unseen fifth and sixth spots will include actors of varying ages and ethnic backgrounds, said Billy Vassiliadis, chief executive officer for Las Vegas-based R&R.

"We have tremendous potential with the African-American segment, the Hispanic segment and the Asian segment. I also think there's tremendous potential within the gay and lesbian segment," Vassiliadis said. "We've been very aware of what we believe to be huge opportunities within those ethnic groups."

The first new ad, which is scheduled to debut on national television today, shows a group of black women on the Strip in a limousine headed home from a bachelorette party. It features no dialogue but leads viewers to believe one member of the group did something embarrassing earlier in the evening.

Vassiliadis said that spot should do well among black viewers, as well as the general population, given this weekend's Valentine's Day holiday and the recent Britney Spears-fueled focus on Las Vegas weddings.

A second ad shown at Tuesday's convention authority board meeting features an elderly couple getting dressed for an evening on the town. As the soundtrack bounces to the rhythm of Tone-Loc's rap hit "Funky Cold Medina," the actress lies to her grown daughter via telephone, saying she and her husband are about to go to bed early.

The board's lone black member, Clark County Commissioner Yvonne Atkinson Gates, said she was pleased the spots included appeals to minority visitors.

"If you look at the numbers, you have a large segment of minorities who spend a lot of money in Las Vegas," Atkinson Gates said. "It makes sense to go after that market even more so."

The other spots shown Tuesday featured a young man who asks a hotel operator to provide a wake-up call to his cell phone because he's not sure where he plans to spend the night, as well as a dishevelled couple who can't find their luggage because they've spent the past two days on the town without ever visiting their hotel room.

The convention authority will spend $13.5 million to air these spots through June.

Last year's four "Vegas Stories" spots were criticized by some viewers and business leaders who thought their suggested messages painted the city in an unflattering manner. Though he said he enjoyed both rounds of ads, board member Don Snyder joked Tuesday that last year's more-risqué spots "gave me an opportunity to have several conversations with my 14-year-old son."

Despite such comments and objections, an independent national telephone survey conducted last month by research firm Wirthlin Worldwide showed 77 percent of the 1,000 business and leisure travelers polled found last year's ads favorable versus a 6 percent to 7 percent unfavorable rating.

In addition, nearly three of every four respondents said the spots increased their interest in visiting Las Vegas.

"This tells us you're not turning anybody away," Mike Dabadie, a Wirthlin vice president, said.

Along with ads for Citibank, Vassiliadis said "Vegas Stories" shared a first-place ranking in overall ad effectiveness as measured by a USA Today reader poll. The publication's readers also ranked the pro-Vegas spots as the seventh most-likable ads of 2003, outclassing spots for big-budget advertisers such as Coca-Cola, Toyota and Honda, among others.

This year's round of "Vegas Stories" was directed by Hank Perlman, whose Hungry Man company also produced the popular "This is SportsCenter" campaign for ESPN.