• Image about Las Vegas

What’s in a nickname? A lot, apparently. Tourism professionals are paying big bucks for slogans they hope will draw new visitors, residents, and industry to their cities.

PEOPLE TEND TO ACT JUST A LITTLE, well, freer than usual when they visit Las Vegas. That phenomenon may be due in part to the brilliant work of a few ad professionals at R&R Partners, who coined Las Vegas’s oft-repeated slogan, “What Happens Here, Stays Here,” in 2001. Whether or not there’s much truth behind the city’s catchphrase, it was credited with giving Vegas’s tourism industry a badly needed boost.

Whether you’re “Always Turned On” when you visit Atlantic City or you really do believe that “Cleveland Rocks!” city slogans help identify or even create what’s unique about a city in order to lure in tourists, industry, and new residents, as well as to garner press, like in the case of Las Vegas, which used its slogan to obliterate the family-friendly image it pushed throughout the 1990s. Slogans have become so vital to the branding effort of cities that want to set themselves apart that big money is being sunk into developing identities and making emotional connections, according to Eric Swartz, president of Tagline Guru, a branding firm based in San Mateo, California. Not every campaign, however, is as successful as Las Vegas’s. Baltimore, for example, forked over half a million dollars to a San Francisco firm to come up with “Get In On It.” But some advertising executives criticized it, saying it could too easily be misread as “Get It On.” Washington state’s “SayWA” campaign cost $200,000 to develop, only to be scrapped after it received overwhelmingly negative feedback from Washington residents. Indianapolis had hoped to play off the city’s Indy 500 race with “Restart Your Engines”; alas, the state of Indiana had already used it. Instead, the city settled on “Raising the Game.” The price tag: $400,000.

Smaller cities have spent up to $100,000 on consultants, focus groups, trademark research, and prototyping to come up with something cool and snazzy. That number can soar even higher with the implementation of a brand campaign that covers everything from street banners and government vehicles all the way down to letterheads and stationery.

And it’s all worth it, claims Swartz, who has been a branding strategist for 30 years. An effective slogan, he says, is like urban renewal but without the headache of having to push through a pricey, often divisive bond measure.

“Good ones won’t build your brand overnight, but they will get you attention,” he says. “It’s all a matter of how you’re perceived.”