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October 21, 2018

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Rossi Ralenkotter: ‘What Happens Here’ is a celebration of ‘adult freedom’


Steve Marcus

Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority President and CEO Rossi Ralenkotter.

Las Vegas commercial

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A shot from a "What Happens Here, Stays Here" TV commercial.

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After a two-year hiatus, the highly touted "What Happens Here, Stays Here" ad series is being relaunched to promote Las Vegas.

Click to enlarge photo

A shot from a "What Happens Here, Stays Here" TV commercial.

Click to enlarge photo

A shot from a "What Happens Here, Stays Here" TV commercial.

That “What Happens Here, Stays Here” won the online vote to be placed on the Madison Avenue Walk of Fame is not entirely surprising. It is one of the most oft-repeated slogans in the history of advertising.

But the margin of victory raises eyebrows. The little idea hatched by then-R&R Partners ad writers Jeff Candido and Jason Hoff topped a field of 20 nominees with a stunning 54 percent of the public online vote. Placing a distant second with 11 percent, but gaining a spot on the Walk of Fame, as well, as first runner-up, was Capital One’s “What’s in Your Wallet?”

None of the other nominees, a field that featured Folgers’ “The Best Part of Waking Up Is Folgers in Your Cup,” the U.S. Army’s “Be All That You Can Be” and American Express’s “Don’t Leave Home Without It,” registered double digits. Voting was held Sept. 9-30.

To coincide with the national Madison Avenue contest and to mark two new “What Happens Here, Stays Here” commercials uncorked last week, we ran a cover story in the current issue of Las Vegas Weekly recounting the rich (and, at times, comical) history of the slogan. One subject who couldn’t respond to questions in time for the Weekly deadline was Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority President and CEO Rossi Ralenkotter. The LVCVA is in partnership with R&R to produce commercials promoting the city

Ralenkotter was out of town and unavailable by phone as I worked on that piece but did chime in after the Weekly print deadline and before the Madison Avenue vote was closed.

But through the miracle of the Interwebs, he can still be heard. What the chief of the LVCVA had to say about “WHHSH”:

The first time he heard the phrase:

“We were at R&R Partners reviewing the consumer research we had done to define the Las Vegas brand. We kept reviewing the research the consumers had shared and were trying to develop a concept. And then, it just came to all of us. Everyone had a ‘Las Vegas story’ to tell, and that in itself became the essence of the branding campaign. People come to Las Vegas to have a great time and not worry about anything. It is about ‘adult freedom.’ ”

The moment he first realized this might be a particularly effective campaign:

“Shortly after the campaign launched, we knew we had something special. One of the most telling signs was the consumer began using and saying the phrase in their conversations. In fact, for the first three years, we never verbally referenced the tag in any of our commercials. The consumer carried the message. It became part of their psyche and daily conversation. First Lady Laura Bush and comedian Jay Leno both said the slogan. It also was utilized in the sitcom ‘Two and a Half Men,’ as well as other television productions.

“It has evolved into the most successful tourism branding campaign in the history of the industry. Brandweek magazine was one of the first to acknowledge its enormous popularity in 2004 when Billy Vassiliadis of R&R Partners and myself were named “Co-Brand Marketer of the Year.”

What he says to detractors who have said the campaign is too salacious:

“It’s about ‘adult freedom,’ and it’s defined by every individual differently. That’s part of what makes the brand so effective. To some consumers, it means deviating from their diet, to others, it means spending extra money on a pair of shoes or dress, and to others, it means having a spa day and dressing up and going to a nightclub.”

“ ‘Adult freedom’ lets the consumer decide what’s appropriate and fun for them.”

Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at Also, follow “Kats With the Dish” at

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