“What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.”
We’ve all heard this line at some point in our lives. Vegas is seen as the pinnacle of luxury, a place where it’s okay to (over) indulge in whatever your preferred “sin” may be.
But how did a one-horse town in the middle of the desert turn into a party capital that draws visitors from around the world? As someone who loves Vegas, despite how my bank account might feel about it, I had to answer this question.
It all comes down to marketing.
Well, marketing and the mob, actually, but that’s another story for another time. For now, I’m going to use the fundamental 4 Ps of marketing to show you how Vegas achieved its place in pop culture.
Las Vegas is, at its core, a city in the middle of a desert. It’s a beautiful landscape, for sure, and there’s plenty of natural wonders to visit outside the city. Still, how do you market a desert as a place where people should come and spend their hard-earned money?
The answer is, you don’t. Instead, you create something within that desert that fulfills a need for people, then market the benefit that you’re providing. This is, after all, the heart of marketing: see a need, fill a need.
So, what did the builders of Las Vegas see a need for?
To answer that question, let me set the stage real quick. It’s 1931 and construction has just begun on Hoover Dam. All of a sudden, you’ve got a major influx of young males who have money to spend and no issues with having some fun, since their wives back home would never find out. What do you do?
Well, if you’re an enterprising mobster, you build a casino and theater. You give these guys somewhere they can spend their money on girls, booze, and gambling. All of a sudden, you’re making money hand over fist. It’s like the Wild West all over again, only with neon-lit casinos instead of saloons.
It’s this product–something that fulfills a pressing need for your audience–that you market. Which is exactly what the builders of Las Vegas did.
I’ve already mentioned that Las Vegas is in the middle of a desert, which might seem like a disadvantage. However, this arid location actually became a strength for the city, thanks to the building of Hoover Dam. After its completion, both the dam and Lake Mead became major tourist attractions, requiring the building of many high-rise hotels.
More importantly, though, the dam generated a huge amount of electricity. So much so, that it could power thousands of bright neon lights that drew tourists to the city like moths to a flame. The flashy, over-the-top image of Las Vegas started to be inserted into pop culture, especially as stars of the era flocked to perform there, drawn by the modern feel and the knowledge that there really is nowhere else like Las Vegas.
If Las Vegas had been built anywhere else, who knows what would have become of it? Probably nothing special.
Celine Dion. Britney Spears. Frank Sinatra. Liberace. Gordon Ramsey. Emeril Lagasse. MGM Grand. Caesar’s Palace. The Bacchanal Buffet. Heart Attack Grill. Cirque du Soleil.
These are but a few of the names and attractions that have been associated with Las Vegas over the years. Stars in music, food, and theater have flocked to this mega-resort town, with many music stars taking up Las Vegas residencies while celebrity chefs partner with multi-billion dollar hotels to launch exclusive restaurants, and entertainment companies create epic performances that can only be seen in Las Vegas, thanks to their sheer scale.
Because of these attractions, along with the city’s reputation as a place to let loose and feel like a “winner,” luxury has flourished here. Sure, you can get there for cheap, thanks to a number of airlines that use Las Vegas as a West Coast hub. But once you’re there, be prepared to shell out some serious cash.
People tend to overindulge when they’re drunk and when they’re on vacation, because it’s not like it’s the “real world,” right? When you combine these two and toss in the line, “Only in Las Vegas,” you’ll have visitors throwing money at you left and right.
That’s exactly what Las Vegas has done. They know that they can charge higher prices because their target audience–AKA tourists–will shell out $15 per person for lunch and $12 for a cocktail. These jacked-up prices also contribute towards the sense that being able to visit Las Vegas makes you a member of the “elite,” even if for just a few days.
Vegas just wouldn’t be Vegas if it was cheap, would it?
There are several elements of the promotional mix–advertising, PR, and sales, to name a few–so I’m not going to delve too deeply into this one. It could be an article of its own, honestly.
Instead, I’m just going to remind you of the official slogan of Las Vegas: “What happens here, stays here.”
This phrase perfectly captures the anything-goes spirit that you see throughout the city, from foot-long pizza slices and 100 oz daiquiris on the Strip, to topless “nuns” and hookers underneath the glittery lights of Fremont Street.
It doesn’t matter how weird, trashy, or just over-the-top you act in Las Vegas, because no one ever has to know. This attitude encourages tourists to really let loose and do whatever their heart desires. (It also makes for some great people watching.)
Marketing is my favorite field because at the end of the day, you’ve got a lot of power. Maybe you don’t have the best parking spot or the fattest paycheck, but do you really think that an accountant could turn a city in the middle of a desert into one of the world’s top tourist destinations? Please.
Disclaimer: This article is not meant to be taken as an insult to accountants. I was an accounting major through my sophomore year, as a matter of fact. I’m merely having a bit of fun with the stereotype that plagues my accounting friends.