RSCVA Reveals Their Branding Campaign

The Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority (RSCVA) revealed their branding campaign to their Board this morning for approval.

For the past year, the RSCVA has been conducting research to best understand their target drive and fly markets (mostly Bay Area/Sacramento/etc for the drive markets, and southern California for the fly markets). They identified a couple of segments of those markets that made the most sense to target with a campaign – those who hadn’t been to the Reno/Sparks/Tahoe area before, and those who had been here before, but not for a while. Through their research, they discovered what we all pretty much already knew – these markets view the area as offering gambling exclusively. Astutely, the RSCVA recognizes that people will gamble once they’re here, but gambling alone is no longer enough to get them here.

For the past seven years (or so), the RSCVA has worked to position the Reno/Sparks/Tahoe area as “America’s Adventure Place.” While the area does offer a remarkable number of outdoor and indoor adventures, it was apparently too much of a disconnect for people to rip them away from visions of blackjack and divorce. Ultimately, it didn’t help the decline in visitors to the area for the past 11 years now.

The new brand positioning was described as “refreshingly offbeat.” It’s referring to the idea that the Reno/Sparks/Tahoe area is a little quirky, fun, unique and proudly unapologetic for being so. I think this brand positioning can work. When a small group of us were given a sneak peak at the positioning last week, I told Michael Thomas (Executive Director of Marketing) and Ellie Oppenheim (President/CEO) that I thought the positioning would resonate – it would just come down to execution. The positioning of being “refreshingly offbeat” is not untrue. I think we can all accept that this position accurately describes Reno/Sparks/Tahoe. And that’s what a brand needs to give it a fighting chance. It can’t be overly ambitious. It can’t be such a wide disconnect from what exists in people’s minds currently. A brand only exists in people’s hearts and minds. A brand is not a logo. A brand is not a tag line. A brand is composed of the images/thoughts/feelings that are conjured up in the hearts and minds of people when they interact with you/your brand. So, I applaud the RSCVA for understanding and really embracing the reality of one of the brand positions this area can really own. There are certainly others, but this is an absolutely attainable brand position that our region can own. But, again, it comes down to execution.

That being said, the RSCVA and their marketing partner (Mortar) presented some of the creative execution to the Board today to help them position Reno/Sparks/Tahoe as “refreshingly offbeat. Among the creative was a new logo for the area. Noticeably different than the previous logo, in that it graphically separates Reno and Tahoe. This was borne from research that the drive markets don’t buy in to the idea that Reno and Tahoe are one area. They view them as distinctly different. One of the people interviewed in RSCVA’s research said, “It’s not Reno-Tahoe any more than it’s SanFrancisco-Monterey.” Interestingly, the further you get away from Reno and Tahoe, the more people were apt to accept it as one region. In other words, folks in LosAngeles are cool with thinking of the area as Reno-Tahoe. So, the RSCVA didn’t want to abandon reference to Tahoe altogether, but needed to separate the two for the drive markets.

Old RSCVA Reno-Tahoe Logo

Old RSCVA Reno-Tahoe Logo

New RSCVA Reno Tahoe USA Logos

New RSCVA Reno Tahoe USA Logos

The new logo feels a bit retro for me, but I think it can grow on me. I don’t really love the “USA” part of the logo, though. I’m not sure why they felt that needed to be a part of the logo, but I’m hoping they had a good reason based in research.

Among the other creative execution revealed, was a few sample ads, and then the tag line of, “A Little West of Center.” Again, the tag line is not the brand, but it’s meant to serve as a memorable phrase that encompasses the brand positioning. I don’t adore the tag line, and the Board was pretty split on it, as well. In fact, the brand positioning was accepted by the Board, but they rejected the tag line, asking Mortar and the RSCVA to try again. Bummer. I’ve been in that position, where we excitedly present creative work to a Board, and some love it and others hate it. I’ll be interested to see what they come up with and how well the next round is received.

As I mentioned earlier, the success of this campaign will not be attributed to the logo and the tag line (the two things people put the most focus on), but rather the full execution of the brand campaign, which includes a number of integrated marketing communications components such as public relations, communication channel selection, engagement of locals (we ARE the brand in many ways), copywriting, using social media and word-of-mouth, and of course the infrastructure to come through on our brand promises of offering quirkiness and unique events. Stay tuned, folks. Oh, and visit Reno, Tahoe, USA : )


5 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Jim_S said,

    Thanks Mike. And thanks for taking an interest in the RSCVA’s process. Part of the challenge is getting buy-in from those who understand how much research went into this work, so it helps to have ambassadors out there.

    People interested in the branding process the RSCVA has undertaken can also get background and updates at

    Jim Scripps

  2. 2

    Larry DeVincenzi said,

    Great post Mike – as expected. You’ve managed to capture the historical aspects of recent meetings in an non-hysterical way. We need to keep our heads while we debate these important issues that will affect us all.

    My question is…if the “A Little West Of Center” tag line is not acceptable, why not simply run with the foundation of the campaign itself – “Refreshingly Offbeat”?

    Seems that captures the essence of the campaign without being too creatively challenging. I’m sure the good minds at Mortar will work quickly now to tag this campaign and get it rolling forward.

    I have some concerns about using a big horn sheep as our spokesperson – but given the executions I saw yesterday, I think it can resonate and work.

    Great post…keep ’em coming!

  3. 3

    Mike McDowell said,

    Jim – I don’t know how anybody involved in marketing can not be interested in this process. It’s extremely interesting – not only the research that is revealing some truths about the area we live in, but the way in which the RSCVA is rolling it out and the campaign’s reception. Even though the campaign is distinctively targeted at these two markets, there is a level of buy-in from locals that has to happen, as well. When you are marketing a community, it’s always fascinating to see how that community accepts its brand position.

    Larry – I think ultimately the brand positioning could serve as a tag line – you’re right. “A little west of center” may have been a bit too obtuse for people, and made them feel more like they were saying the region was more on the “weird” side than the “quirky” side (which, in turn, made people feel like we were telling them that they were weird). There’s a fine balance to being quirky and being weird or awkward.

    I’ll be interested to see more execution of the bighorn sheep spokesperson, too. I didn’t include anything in this post about it because I didn’t have a good example to reference. Did anyone offer up the artwork to use as a sample, or did anyone grab a good photo?

  4. 4

    Larry DeVincenzi said,

    Regarding the Big Horn sheep spokesperson….

    The introduction to this element included asking the crowd in attendance who recognized Geico’s gecko and AFLAC’s duck. Mortar’s spokesperson is a very charming man with a heavy British accent – so there was some good humor in how it was positioned (although he kept saying Nevahdah). I could care less how you pronounce our state – but others might have bristled a bit that he wasn’t “correct”, which certainly positioned him as the “out-of-town” expert.

    But then he polled the crowd – “how many of you know what AFLAC does”? Very few would admit (in that setting) that they did. Maybe three or four out of 50 people.

    Certainly these brand characters were recognizable – there have been millions spent maintaining their visibility. But the informal poll of the audience clearly illustrated that few knew what AFLAC’s core business was (which was surprising to me). I think Mortar intended to support the fact that they were highly recognized brands with cultural icons.

    This somewhat confusing set-up and informal audience poll served as a sequay to introduce the Big Horn sheep as the region’s new “spokesperson”. But the example used was that while they were recognizable, they didn’t communicate the brand’s basic values or scope of business.

    It was contradictory – to say the least.

    I’m not entirely “sold” on the Big Horn sheep, per se. But I understand why they’d want to engage a character of sorts to help communicate the unique values of our community, and utilize it to geographically identify the specific locations to those unique opportunities.

    The tactic of doing that for this crowd was all wrong (in my opinion). It confused more than clarified. And there were some passionate naysayers, like our Mayor, laying in wait in the audience for just such an opportunity to show off. That certainly didn’t help convince anyone that the very contemporary art direction suggested was supported by clear brand strategy. This simple element may have been another reason there was such an irrational reaction to something as simple as the proposed tag line.

    Once you have community leaders wagging fingers at good people over a total misunderstanding of the rationale – then the media swoops in to grab the sensational headline, rather than reporting the facts. PR fail.

    You know how it goes… better than most, Mike. Sometimes it’s not the core value of the concept that is rejected, it’s the way you present it to the client. Mortar and the RSCVA have done a great job on this campaign – they just missed the mark a bit in its presentation to the public (and key community stakeholders) – in front of media. I don’t think that helped gain the public acceptance needed for this very smart, bold, needed repositioning campaign.

    • 5

      Mike McDowell said,

      Thanks for adding that information to this post. Needed, for sure. Spokespeople (er, spokesanimals) can be a risk, for sure. You’re right, it does seem to be slightly off the theme of the campaign, unless it turns out to be a very quirky sheep. The Geico and AFLAC case studies are interesting because they were used as memory triggers to help remember an obscure business name (and, as you point out, decided on using a large TV budget to spread awareness). I can’t recall if I’ve seen a spokesanimal/character for destination marketing.

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