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  • Writer's pictureDina Schenk

Aiming at the Wall: In Branding as in Darts

Most branding and business strategy professionals are familiar with the infamous 1990s Las Vegas re-branding disaster. Facing a slump in tourism as the “Rat Pack-Bad Boy-Mobster” fascination faded, Sin City decided to straighten up and fly right, rebranding as a family-friendly destination.

That’s right. Sin City would now be more of a Virtue Valley.

Needless to say, the radical brand reinvention was an abysmal failure. While people no longer felt compelled by yesterday’s Vegas (focused largely on gambling and girls), they were sure as hell not going to take their kids to Vegas just because they had water parks and roller coasters. Disney World would do just fine, thank you very much.

In an enthusiastic attempt to capture a new customer segment, Vegas made the mistake of setting its sites much too far outside its brand “bulls eye”—i.e. the core essence of what it is and what people believe it to be—an approach that is almost always destined to fail when the brand in question is already defined and entrenched in people's hearts and minds.

When a well-established brand wants to evolve, it is typically best to select strategies that will move the brand to the rings just outside the bulls eye—never all the way off the target and into the wall. No matter how well your brand performs its new services or how incredible its new products, customers just won’t be able to get past the cognitive dissonance of seeing you in such a radical new light.

Fortunately, the Vegas story had a happy ending. Sin City soon abandoned the whole family friendly thing and went all in on the adult market, extending its reach to, well, “regular adults" as opposed to strictly the flashy high-rollers of yore. To capture this much larger audience of average Joes and Joannas who occasionally want to get away and cut loose, they launched their wildly successful “What Happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas" campaign and expanded their attractions beyond gambling to other types of adult-focused escapism including nightclubs, extravagant shows, and high-end dining and shopping.

Re-positioning Vegas in a way that included exponentially more people while remaining in harmony with its already established core identity was definitely a winning throw.



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